Hawaii’s demand for pork is on the rise but slaughterhouses cater to beef.

When butcher Jason Chow returned from Berkeley, California, to start his local meat business in 2020, he thought he would face some supply chain issues: He thought finding local beef on Oahu would be difficult.

“I come to find out it’s the reverse,” Chow said. “Beef is no problem here, pork is a huge issue.”

There have been times when the butcher could not find local pork to sell.

That’s because the network of slaughterhouses in Hawaii is small and predominantly tailored to cattle, following years of market forces that have made meat from the mainland cheaper.

Kualoa Ranch practices Korean natural farming techniques when raising pigs, placing them in a pen at night to keep their stock from being interbred with feral hogs.
Local slaughter of small livestock has been in decline since the 1960s. (Claire Caulfield/Civil Beat/2021)

Hawaii’s focus on beef has left the small livestock sector behind, but even if there was more production of pigs, sheep and goats, there’s no way to get that livestock onto the market.

Some in the agricultural industry say the state should help foot the bill for new local slaughter facilities, as it has in the past, while current legislators argue it’s a matter for the private sector.

Butcher Jason Chow is looking to scale up his business, but a slaughterhouse dedicated to hogs would help. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

In the meantime, Chow and a cadre of butchers working in Hawaii have been doing an end run and buying animals in a “gray market” to slaughter themselves.

Chow now plans to move his pop-up business The Local General Store to a shopfront in Kaimuki, knowing supply remains in question.

“It’s not consistent enough, in terms of being able to get our hands on it,” Chow said. “Culturally speaking people in Hawaii, gravitate more towards pork than beef. We need to have pork.”

Hawaii’s annual demand for pork is increasing and anticipated to surpass 100 million pounds by 2036, according to a Department of Agriculture and Hawaii Cattlemen’s Council analysis.

It was 89 million pounds in 2019.

  • ‘Hawaii Grown’ Special Series

The State Of Slaughter

Local slaughter in Hawaii, particularly of small livestock, has been in precipitous decline since the 1960s.

Last year, 2,000 hogs were slaughtered, compared to just over 14,000 a decade earlier according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Sheep and goats are no longer being slaughtered on a meaningful scale anywhere.

The recent purchase of several key slaughterhouses in Hawaii by Idaho billionaire Frank VanderSloot was seen as a potential solution to the pork shortage.

But while VanderSloot’s Hawaii Meats slaughterhouse in Kalaeloa does slaughter pigs for Oahu’s pig farmers, it generally only happens about twice per month. On Big Island, Maui and Kauai, it is a similar story.

The heft of the local beef industry and the logistical challenges of slaughtering different species in the same facility means it is inevitable hogs would play second fiddle, according to Melelani Oshiro, a livestock extension agent with the University of Hawaii.

"They may be smaller in size, you may be able to do more, but you have to have additional equipment for them not always compatible with all the other species that you're doing," Oshiro said.

Mobile slaughter units that require less capital investment have been tried in Hawaii too, though they have yet to gain traction.

This year a group of Oahu's hog farmers tried to address the gap and convince lawmakers to approve a plan for a new $4 million slaughterhouse on 3 acres next to the Kalaeloa slaughterhouse. The Agribusiness Development Corp. would have been in charge of the build, a third party would have run it.

While lawmakers dropped the companion bills the House Finance Committee offered a glimmer of hope, advising advocates to lodge a funding request under capital improvement projects.

Hawaii Farm Bureau Executive Director Brian Miyamoto said questions over funding will be answered as the 2023 legislative session continues and advocates lobby for space in the House or Senate's budgets.

"The alternative is that we see our hog industry disappear," Miyamoto said.

Other bills related to animal slaughter are continuing through the 2023 legislative session, including reinstating a state meat inspection program and addressing the shortage of meat inspectors in Hawaii.

Mortgage Lifters

If the slaughterhouse nut can be cracked it would only take a couple of years for the hog industry to rebuild, according to former UH Cooperative Extension swine specialist Halina Zaleski.

"That's why they call pigs the mortgage lifters," Zaleski said. "Twenty pigs per sow, per year ... Those pigs will be market ready in six months."

The cost of imported animal feed remains an economic concern, but pigs can also be fed food scraps taken from Hawaii's hospitality industry, which Zaleski says makes them a sustainable option for Hawaii's food system.

Amy and Glenn Shinsato ran a successful hog farm with their own slaughterhouse.
Amy and Glenn Shinsato ran a successful hog farm with their own slaughterhouse. (Provided/Amy and Glenn Shinsanto)

Former pig farmers Amy and Glenn Shinsato have seen it all.

They spent years raising and slaughtering their own pigs, running Oahu's only on-farm USDA certified slaughterhouse.

The Shinsatos sold their farm six years ago and little has changed. It was costly for the Shinsatos to build their own slaughterhouse but they were able to regain their investment by selling their meat at a premium to loyal customers, such as those in the restaurant industry.

Glenn Shinsato says small livestock farmers need to be tenacious and not wait for the government to help.

"Hawaii has the ability but doesn't have the willpower," Shinsato said.

Oahu's Kualoa Ranch raises pigs for the market but not enough to justify investing in its own slaughter facility, said the ranch's director of diversified agriculture and land stewardship, Taylor Kellerman.

Instead, Kellerman said a slaughterhouse that meets the needs of all the island's pork producers is the best solution.

"It really comes back to 'whose responsibility is food security?'" he said.

"Hawaii Grown" is funded in part by grants from the Stupski Foundation, Ulupono Fund at the Hawaii Community Foundation and the Frost Family Foundation.

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