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Pingree, Fortenberry Introduce Legislation to Expand & Strengthen Local Meat Processing Capabilities

Washington, September 29, 2020

Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) and Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) today introduced legislation to support small meat and poultry processors. The Strengthening Local Processing Act will expand options for local producers and assist smaller facilities as they adapt to the coronavirus pandemic and expand to meet demand.

“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. “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.” – Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (NE-01), Ranking Member, House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, and Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Large meat and poultry processing plants across the country have been shutting down due to COVID-19 outbreaks. The pandemic has underscored the lack of resilience in the meat and poultry processing sectors, shining a new light on a longstanding problem. As a result, consumers have shown an increased interest in buying local products, including meat and poultry. 

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 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. There are currently 27 states that operate a state inspection program and eight states that participate in CIS. 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 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.

Read statements of support for the Strengthening Local Processing Act below:

“The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition thanks Representative Pingree and Representative Fortenberry for introducing the Strengthening Local Processing Act. Small plants play a critical role in ensuring farmers and ranchers are able to process their products, especially during the increase in demand for more local and regional meat and poultry during the COVID-19 pandemic. This bill is a strong step towards ensuring scale-appropriate regulations and support for small plants that maintain and pursue federal and state inspection.” – Kelly Nuckolls, Policy Specialist, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

“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. We think it gets at some of the core and complex challenges in the sector that many other bills have not addressed. We believe it can make a positive impact.” – Rebecca Thistlethwaite, Director, Niche Meat Processors Assistance Network

“The Local Strengthening Processing Act includes the technical assistance and cost-share programs needed to increase independent meat processing capacity. The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association recently launched a new committee tasked with ensuring the profitability and sustainability of independent state and federally-inspected processing plants, and we commend Congresswoman Pingree for bringing forward this set of solutions that helps bring us closer to accomplishing that goal.” – Patrick Robinette, Independent Processing Committee Chairman, United States Cattlemen’s Association

“Small plants are the backbone of the processing infrastructure in the bison business. The disruption created by COVID-19 has placed those plants under extreme stress. The provisions in the local processing bill will provide those plants with important resources to help existing plants get through this challenge, and will assist new facilities in successful start-up.”  Dave Carter, Executive Director, National Bison Association

“We are pleased to see bipartisan support for the Strengthening Local Processing Act. This legislation shows that lawmakers are responsive to the needs of their constituents and recognize the unique challenges farm and business owners are facing today. We urge Congress to advance this legislation.” – Johnathan Hladik, Policy Director Center for Rural Affairs 

“The pandemic confirmed something farmers have known for some time: there is a severe shortage of local and regional meat processing facilities across the country. This not only means that farmers often have to send their livestock hundreds of miles away, but it also makes our food supply vulnerable to disruption. By helping small to mid-sized processors access interstate markets, providing financial and technical assistance to local slaughter facilities, and expanding career training for meat processing, the Strengthening Local Processing Act is an important step towards strengthening local food systems and giving farmers more and more convenient processing options.” – Rob Larew, National Farmers Union President

Pingree is an organic farmer who raises grass-fed beef and chickens on her island farm in North Haven, Maine. She is a member of the House Agriculture Committee and the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture. Pingree is the co-author of the PRIME Act, legislation that would remove hurdles for small livestock farmers by allowing them to sell their locally raised, custom-exempt processed, meat directly to consumers.

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