Williams Baptist University in Walnut Ridge is the newest meat processing facility licensed by the state's fairly new Arkansas Meat Inspection Program.
The three other state-inspected processing facilities include Arkansas State University, JACO Meats and Ferguson's Packing Company.
The private Christian university broke ground on a 4,200-square-foot meat processing facility in April 2022 that would be certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help address a shortage of meat processors in Arkansas, train and educate workers in the field, and provide jobs to students involved in the university's Williams Works initiative, according to a university news release.
The facility would aim to harvest 20 to 25 animals each week when fully operational, "bringing relief to farmers in the region who find it difficult to get into a processing facility in a timely manner," the release stated.
"The need for additional meat processors in the state of Arkansas was evident prior to the coronavirus pandemic, and this shortage has become more pronounced in the ensuing months."
Arkansas' meat inspection program was authorized during the 2021 regular state legislative session via Act 418. A cooperative agreement with USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service was approved last year that allows the state Department of Agriculture to inspect meat products to be shipped for sale within Arkansas' borders.
Arkansas joined 28 other states to participate in USDA's State Meat and Poultry Inspection program last year; the Food Safety and Inspection Service committed to providing up to 50% of the state's operating funds, training and other assistance for the program with the goal of opening up retail markets for smaller livestock producers, particularly following food supply chain disruptions from the pandemic in 2020.
The USDA program allows state inspectors to ensure regulatory compliance and enforce program requirements in smaller establishments operating in Arkansas, and inspection services must align with USDA guidelines under the Federal Meat Inspection Act.
The state Department of Agriculture worked with legislators and industry stakeholders to determine how to allocate $10.4 million from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act received in 2020 for the Arkansas Meat and Poultry Processing Grant Program; Williams Baptist University received funding from this program in 2020, a state Department of Agriculture news release stated.