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One of Tri-Town's products--sausage. Photo: Sarah Harris
One of Tri-Town's products--sausage. Photo: Sarah Harris

Update: Tri-Town in negotiations with USDA

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Correction, Friday, 12:00 p.m.: This story previously said that Jeff Liberty was "doubtful that he and his father will be able to convince the USDA to relax the rules." This mischaracterized Liberty's statement. His actual statement was as follows: "We're not going to change the rules and regulations for the USDA, and that's not what our intention is. But the way that they've been enforced, and the amount of personnel that have been devoted to our plant, in our opinion, is unfair."

The error has been corrected below.

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Earlier this week, we reported that Tri-Town Processing in Brasher Falls - one of St. Lawrence County's biggest slaughterhouses - is no longer processing USDA-inspected meats for retail customers. That has the North Country farmers who raised those animals worried. Yesterday we checked in with co-owners Tom and Jeff Liberty. We were also in touch with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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Reported by

Zach Hirsch
Reporter and Producer

The Libertys have been in business for 37 years. Recently, things have grown tense between them and the federal workers who inspect the facility.

"I won't compromise the quality of the products going out of here if I don't think the inspectors are up to the job," says Tom Liberty. He says the disagreements have gotten so bitter between him and the USDA – the agency that does the inspections – that he's ready to end Tri-Town's relationship with them.

It's important to mention that Tri-Town is not closed. The Libertys are still open for business. But, if they choose not to get the USDA-inspected stamp, they can only process animals for families, and private customers who are eating the meat themselves.

"This is a shame, but it's not fixable with the current USDA staff."

A spokesperson for the USDA said it's too early to go on record about the case.

Today, Tom and Jeff Liberty say they're negotiating over the phone with the USDA to see what happens next.

"We're going to outline – take tonight and outline some of the points that we'd like to make, and see if we can find any common ground. We're not sure," says Jeff Liberty.

Jeff says he's doubtful that he and his father will be able to convince the USDA to relax the rules. Jeff says he and his father aren't hopeful. The Libertys already called up their customers – local farmers, who relied on them to process their animals – to say that for now, they'll have to bring their animals somewhere else – but that only applies to meat being sold in stores or farmers markets.

"Just across the phone, you could tell they were in tears," Jeff says.

One of the people who got the call is Kassandra Barton. She raises cows, pigs, and sheep on the Eight O'Clock Ranch in De Kalb.

"We really like being close, and we're based upon grass-fed, pasture-raised animals, humane treatment of our animals. We even work it that during the summer, during the hottest periods, we don't send animals because we don't want them in a truck where it's hot and they're being stressed for any longer. To truck them any further is just one of those things that personally we don't want to go down that road."

If Tri-Town permanently breaks it off with the USDA, Jeff Liberty says customers who need that USDA-inspected stamp would have to go to Heuvelton, Croghan, Ticonderoga, or Utica.

But it's not final yet. Today, the Libertys and USDA representatives will try talking it out.

Natasha Haverty contributed reporting to this story.

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