Animal welfare advocate's impossible choice: vote for an abattoir or against 2000 jobs

Thomas Foods' Murray Bridge meat works has won development approval with the support of a local councillor.

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Faced with an excruciating choice between her personal beliefs and the economic needs of her district, a Murray Bridge councillor and animal welfare advocate has gritted her teeth and voted for the second option.

As a councillor representing all residents on the Murray Bridge council assessment panel, Karen Eckermann was duty-bound to support the proposal at hand, which would create about 2000 local jobs.

But as a founder of Murraylands Animal Welfare Watch and non-meat eater, it was with some reservation she lent her support to Thomas Foods International's new meat works, which won development approval this morning.

When complete, the facility will be capable of processing more than 15,000 sheep and 1200 cattle per day.

“Although I am not a fan of abattoirs myself, being a non-meat eater and animal rights advocate, I must concede that ... demand for meat continues and meat works will exist,” Cr Eckermann said during an impassioned speech to the panel, pictured below.

“I understand the reach of the panel in this assessment does not encompass animal welfare measures, and there's not a whole lot of information about the journey through the killing process itself, but I have been pleased to hear that Thomas Foods intends to build a best-practice facility, quote 'world-class in environmental sustainability, animal welfare and workplace safety'.

“I trust significant provisions have been made for the handling and de-stressing of animals throughout the whole process.”

However, she encouraged TFI to consider installing CCTV throughout its stock yards and slaughtering process areas.

Thomas Foods welcomes latest milestones

Chief executive Darren Thomas welcomed the approval of TFI's plan for a “world-class” meat works.

Construction of beef processing facilities would begin in the second half of this year, he confirmed, with sheep processing to follow later.

TFI is currently evaluating tenders for the construction work.

He also welcomed an announcement from the Murray Bridge council that it had appointed Downer EDI and local company Spry Civil Construction to build an access road between the new meat works and Mannum Road.

Mayor Brenton Lewis said he looked forward to the completion of the journey that began in January 2018.

"The impact of the devastating fire that tore through the original facility ... was felt deeply throughout our community," he said.

"TFI has shown great loyalty to the community and an unwavering commitment to re-establishing operations in our rural city.

"Council is proud to be playing a significant role in this infrastructure project (the access road) to help make it happen."

State MP Adrian Pederick described the project as a great example of all three levels of government working hand in hand with industry, while federal MP Tony Pasin said it would create and sustain jobs all along the supply chain.

As well as the thousands of workers directly employed at the new meat works, another 4500 indirect jobs are expected to be created once it is fully operational.

Correction: Murraylands Animal Welfare Watch was misspelled in an earlier version of this story. Photo, image: Rural City of Murray Bridge/YouTube.

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