Addressing meat processing woes (Shepherd’s Notebook)
(Editor’s note: Susan Schoenian is a sheep and goat specialist with the University of Maryland.)
COVID-19 has exposed some of the weaknesses in the U.S. meat supply chain.
There is a shortage of federally-inspected slaughterhouses, as just 50 plants process 98 percent of the meat in the United States.
The current “one-size-fits-all” meat safety regulations put small producers and processors at a disadvantage. In response, Congress has introduced (or re-introduced) three bills, aimed at giving both livestock producers and consumers more options.
These are the Direct Act, Prime Act, and Ramp-Up Act.
The Direct (Direct Interstate Retail Exemption for Certain Transactions) Act would allow meat processed in state-inspected establishments to be sold across state lines via e-commerce.
Currently, state-inspected meat (with some exceptions) can only be sold intrastate.
Since state meat inspection is “at least equal to” federal standards, why state-inspected meat can’t already be sold across state lines remains a bafflement (to me).
While Delaware, Virginia, and West Virginia have state meat inspection, Maryland and Pennsylvania gave up their programs a long time ago.
The Direct Act is supported by industry groups such as the American Sheep Industry Association.
The Processing Revival and Intrastate Meat Exemption Act would loosen regulations to allow meat such as beef, pork, goat, or lamb from custom kill plants (not state or federally-inspected) to be sold to consumers, restaurants, hotels, and grocery stores.
While there are no guarantees, it would allow states to pass legislation that could open up custom-exempt facilities for commercial slaughter/processing.
Currently, a producer can sell a live animal (or shares) to a customer and deliver the animal to a custom plant for processing, but pieces of the carcass cannot be sold (or given away) by either the producer or the customer.
The packages of meat are labeled “not for resale.”
Various industry groups oppose the Prime Act because it would allow uninspected meat to be sold. USDA/FSIS would also lack recall authority.
Custom slaughter is exempt from continuous inspection; only the facilities are inspected (periodically) to ensure they meet sanitation and labeling standards.
Inspectors are not present before, during, or after slaughter.
Small producers claim the Prime Act would level the playing field.
On-farm poultry slaughter (up to 20,000 birds) is already exempted from continuous inspection.
The American Sheep Industry Association neither supports nor opposes the Prime Act.
The Ramp-Up (Requiring Assistance to Meat Processors for Upgrading Plants) Act would provide federal grants (up to $100,000) to help existing meat and poultry processors move to federal inspection and be able to sell their products across state lines and internationally.
It would give processors the tools to become federally inspected facilities, which would widen their customer base while maintaining strong inspection standards.
The one-to-one match requirement would be scheduled to be waived for the first year.
The Ramp-Up act has widespread support, including the American Sheep Industry Association.
If any of these bills are important to you, be sure to contact your congressional leadership.
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