Ag Policy Blog

Small Packer Processing Bill Introduced in House

Jerry Hagstrom
By  Jerry Hagstrom , DTN Political Correspondent

A pair of lawmakers on Tuesday introduced legislation to support small meat and poultry processors.

Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, and House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., announced "The Strengthening Local Processing Act."

A key component of the bill increasing the federal share of costs for state inspection from 50% to 65% and for USDA's Cooperative Interstate Shipment (CIS) facilities from 60% to 80%, thus encouraging more states to operate state inspection programs and participate in CIS. There are 27 states that operate a state inspection program, but only eight states participate in the CIS program.

This is not the first piece of legislation this year offering ways for smaller, state-inspected packers to expand. Congress has gotten more engaged in looking for ways to make smaller packers more competitive following empty meat shelves in the beginning of the pandemic, along with major packers taking advantage of the spread this year between cash livestock prices and the prices for boxed beef.

The legislation would also 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. It would also authorize a new $10 million grant program for colleges and universities to establish or expand meat processing training programs 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.

“Maine has almost 3,400 diversified small farms that raise livestock, but our farmers have to book their dates as soon as the hooves hit the ground because the processing availability is so strained,” said Pingree, who also serves on the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee. “Under the Strengthening Local Processing Act, our state would have increased slaughter and processing capacity, allowing us to produce much more meat and chicken right here in Maine. This legislation would bring much needed relief to Maine farmers, offer support for Maine's small slaughterhouses and butchers, many of which are family-owned businesses, and allow consumers to access the local products they desire, especially during this time of disruption to the national supply chain.”

“There is a broadening concern over corporate concentration in the meatpacking industry. In a previous time, we had more local meat processing. This bill helps stimulate a return to that previous model, creating a robust market in local economies, linking the farm to the family,” Fortenberry said.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, the Niche Meat Processors Network, the U.S. Cattlemen's Association, the National Bison Association and the Center for Rural Affairs all praised the bill.

The bill includes support for small plants' compliance with Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) plans; increased cost share for state meat and poultry inspection programs; increased cost share and expansion of the Cooperative Interstate Shipment Program; a grant program to expand small plants, including small and very small federally inspected plants; and an education and training grant program.

“Based on NMPAN's 12 years of research, education, and providing technical assistance related to the viability of small and mid-scale meat processors, our organization finds that the provisions of the proposed 'Strengthening Local Processing Act' are thoughtfully designed and will address persistent challenges that our processor members frequently share with us,” said Rebecca Thistlethwaite, Director of the Niche Meat Processors Assistance Network. “We think it gets at some of the core and complex challenges in the sector that many other bills have not addressed.”

Small processors were also excited to see a focus on scale-appropriate regulations, and support for education of the next generation of small-scale, niche meat processors.

Kevin Barnhill, owner of the Blair Meat Market in Blair, Nebraska, offered: “The Strengthening Local Processing Act is a winning proposal. Business owners will appreciate the targeted assistance. Farmers will profit from increased market opportunities. Consumers will benefit most of all from access to fresh and local foods.”

-Strengthening Local Processing Act

https://pingree.house.gov/…

-A summary of the bill from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition https://sustainableagriculture.net/…

Jerry Hagstrom can be reached at jhagstrom@nationaljournal.com

Follow him on Twitter @hagstromreport

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