HACKETTSTOWN, N.J. - A proposed animal processing plant at the Hackettstown Livestock Auction prompted a group to form in opposition.

Members of Slaughter Free Hackettstown gathered downtown Tuesday to protest.

The livestock auction, a co-op of local farmers and customers, is run by a board of directors who said a processing plant was requested in the wake of COVID-19 grocery shortages.

Michael Toretta, a board member, said more people were interested in buying local meat and there isn't a processing facility nearby.

"We got the idea, ‘let’s put a processing plant in so they can buy local stuff, raised by our local farmers from surrounding areas and that's how we got here. We thought it was a good fit,” he said.

Torretta said the processing plant will be a self-contained unit in a building already on the auction house property and it will be certified by the USDA and state of New Jersey.

"Part of the reason we're here is to object to animals being slaughtered but part of the reason we're here is because this is our community and our community is being affected in negative, negative ways by what they're proposing to do,” said Tamala Leister of Slaughter Free Hackettstown. "They're trying to sneak it by and open it up without the public knowing about it,” she said.

The slaughterhouse will need to be approved by the Hackettstown Land Use Board. Protesters hope to drum up more support before its next meeting in September.

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