Legislation Will Help Processors Adapt to COVID-19, Meet Consumer Demand

WASHINGTON, D.C. [02/25/21]—U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.) helped introduce bipartisan legislation to help small meat and poultry processors adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic and meet consumer demand. The Strengthening Local Processing Act, also led by U.S. Senator John Thune (R-S.D.), would provide training, education, and technical assistance grants to help small processing plants improve and streamline their operations. Additionally, it would open new markets by allowing inspector-approved meat products to be sold across state lines.

 “As a member of the Senate Ag Committee, I feel a strong responsibility to help address the vulnerabilities in meat processing that COVID-19 exposed,” said Sen. Smith. “I also want to create economic opportunity for small processing plants. This bipartisan bill will open new markets for them by allowing products that pass strong state inspection standards to be sold across state lines. It will also provide education and technical grants to help small processing plants improve and strengthen their operations. This bipartisan legislation would be good for producers, processors and consumers.”

 “We raise pastured pigs and sell the pork directly to families. It was hard enough to get slaughter dates for our hogs before COVID but now we're having to book slaughter dates almost a year in advance. And when it comes to getting a last-minute date for a pig who sizes up early, forget about it,” said Dayna Burtness, pastured hog farmer at Nettle Valley Farm and Land Stewardship Project member. “The local meat processing bottleneck is approaching a crisis for small and medium sized farms like ours, especially ones using regenerative practices. Simply put, if slaughter dates and inspected processing options get any scarcer, many local pastured livestock farmers like us won't make it, young regenerative farmers won't be able to get started, and rural places will suffer. This is why we support the Strengthening Local Processing Act as a first step toward a more local and resilient food system.”

Under federal law, in order for a farmer or rancher to sell individual cuts of locally raised meats they must first send their animals to one of a limited number of U.S. Department of Agriculture or state-inspected slaughterhouses. These slaughterhouses are sometimes hundreds of miles away and there are far too few of them across the nation. As a result, many smaller meat and poultry processing plants are booked out for months, and small farms are unable meet new demand due to a lack of processing capacity. 

The Strengthening Local Processing Act will:

·       Authorize competitive grants to small and very small establishments, state inspected facilities, custom exempt facilities, or new small-scale slaughter facilities for activities related to COVID-19 response and recovery;

·       Authorize a new $10 million grant program for colleges and universities to establish or expand meat processing training program and a new $10 million grant program for small and very small establishments or nongovernmental organizations to offset the cost of training new meat processors; and

·       Increase the federal share of costs for state inspection from 50 to 65 percent and for Cooperative Interstate Shipment (CIS) facilities from 60 to 80 percent, thus encouraging more states to operate state inspection programs and participate in CIS.  

In addition to Sens. Smith and Thune, the Strengthening Local Processing Act is supported by Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Angus King (I-Maine), Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) and Bob Casey (D-Penn.). A bipartisan House companion bill was introduced by Representatives Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) and Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.).

You can access bill text here.

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