Breaking news: USDA gives green light for matanza
Thanks to a little help from a man more familiar with broncs and bulls than pigs, the Valencia County Hispano Chamber of Commerce 12th Annual Matanza is back on track with a date for the annual fundraiser.
Chamber President Yvonne Sanchez announced Wednesday that the matanza would be held at the Belen Sheriff’s Posse on Saturday, Feb. 25.
Although the chamber got the green light from the U.S. Department of Agriculture last week to hold the event, chamber officials didn’t feel like they had enough time to organize what might very well be the world’s largest matanza for its traditional end-of-January time frame.
While they were willing to move it to February, the Casper Baca Rough Stock Series had already booked the venue for its weekend competitions all through that month and the first weekend of March.
“We met with Casper and Cheryl Baca and the city of Belen, and they (the Bacas) agreed to skip the weekend of Feb. 25 and move the competition for that day to March, at the end of the series,” Sanchez said. “We can’t thank these people enough. The community rallied behind us and we really want them to support the Bacas.”
This year marks the 36th Annual Rough Stock Series and its 29th year of being hosted in Belen.
“For them to move it to accommodate us if huge,” Sanchez said. “They are doing it for the community and it is a big task. We are going to do as much as we can to promote their event.”
Baca said the decision to give up the weekend was easy to make because the matanza is such a big event for the city of Belen.
“A lot of people depend on it. A lot of the people I do business with rely on it for income,” Baca said. “We felt it was best for everyone to get along and give a little.”
While he hasn’t attended the matanza before, Baca said he would probably go this year, since he would be on site anyway with the rodeo stock.
Sanchez said the matanza is going to proceed just as it has in the past, and once it’s over and done with, chamber officials plan to sit down with representatives of the USDA for a discussion on how to continue the tradition without conflicting with the agency’s regulations.
Things came to a head with the food safety agency in December when the chamber received a letter from the USDA advising them of its concerns about the safety of the pork used at the matanza, since it wasn’t processed by a USDA certified facility.
In an attempt to protect the participants from possible fines and sanctions, and the chamber itself, the board members decided to cancel the matanza until the differences of opinion over the regulations for meat processing were settled.
Last week, the USDA issued a statement saying it never intended for the event to be canceled, saying it was a matter of “miscommunication.” The chamber announced its plans to move forward with the matanza, but was unsure when and where it would be held.
The VCHCC’s annual matanza is it’s signature event and draws 10,000 or more people every year. Proceeds from the event fund the chamber’s scholarship fund for local students.
It’s good news and bad news for the annual Valencia County Hispano Chamber of Commerce matanza.
The good news is the matanza is back on and will see a 12th year. The bad news is there’s a scheduling conflict at the matanza’s usual location.
After a teleconference with Alfred Almanza, the administrator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service, the chamber’s president, Yvonne Sanchez, announced that the annual matanza has been given the green light from the USDA’s “top guy.”
“In his words, he was giving us a pass,” said Sanchez.
On Dec. 26, Sanchez announced that after much consideration, chamber’s board members voted to cancel the matanza. She said the decision was ultimately made due to an ongoing dispute over regulations imposed by the USDA.
Sanchez said the USDA made the determination that the pork used at the matanza had to be butchered and packaged at a department-certified facility. The requirement for USDA certified pork seems to be triggered by the fact that there is an admission fee to the event, she said.
Chamber board member Edward Calabaza said during the conversation with Almanza on Thursday, the administrator chocked up the incident to “miscommunication and misinterpretation.”
“Given that agency’s size and bureaucracy, he alluded that going down a chain of command this long, things get misinterpreted,” Calabaza said.
While Sanchez and the chamber asked for written documentation that the event had the USDA’s blessing, Calabaza said Almanza declined to do so.
“It all comes down to a liability issue,” he said. “There is nothing in writing, but Mr. Almanza said he was using his regulatory discretion in terms of allowing us to proceed. He did guarantee that the USDA would not show up. There will be no red tags or fines.”
Sanchez said, at least for this year, the matanza will continue as it always has.
“Mr. Almanza has committed to coming down here after the matanza and working with us to ensure that we don’t have issues in the future,” she said. “We are going to stay true to our traditions. I can’t stress that enough.”
In 2000, the chamber began hosting its matanza at the Sheriff’s Posse in Belen. The event has traditionally been held on the last Saturday of January. This year’s matanza was scheduled for Jan. 28.
But at this time, Sanchez said the chamber doesn’t feel it can get the matanza back on track in just three short weeks.
The chamber had hoped to push the event back to February, but unfortunately, the Casper Baca’s Rough Stock Series is scheduled at the Sheriff’s Posse every Saturday in February and early March.
Sanchez is hopeful that they can work out a compromise with Baca to have the event there.
“But we are looking for other locations,” she said. “We will have a location for the matanza.”
For the complete story, read Saturday’s edition of the News-Bulletin.
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