SUPPORTING LOCAL MEAT PRODUCTION
Imagine a consumer who wants to buy local, hormone- and antibiotic-free, 100 percent grassfed meat. Upon finding a farmer who is raising her animals exactly the way the consumer wants he asks, “I’d like to buy five pounds of ground beef, please.”
“I’m sorry, I can’t sell you that. What I can sell you is this box. It’s around one hundred pounds of beef.”
“One hundred pounds of ground beef?!”
“No. It’s a mix of ground beef, ribs, roasts, steaks and organ meats. But I don’t know exactly how much of each cut or even how much total meat there is. It could be as little as eighty pounds or as much as one hundred twenty pounds.”
“How much does it cost?”
“It’ll be X dollars per pound of live animal.”
“What does that mean in terms of price per pound of meat?”
“I can give you an estimate, but we won’t know until after you buy the animal and it is processed.”
“When can I get it?”
“I need to find three other people who want this same deal, and then we can make it happen. Or you could buy the whole animal, somewhere between three hundred and four hundred pounds of meat.”
Some readers of Wise Traditions buy their meat exactly this way—but how many consumers want to do this? Or are even in a position to buy that much meat all at one time?
Yet this is the sort of arrangement that many farmers have to make in order to sell their meat. For farmers who don’t have access to an inspected slaughterhouse—which would allow them to sell their meat by the cut—“custom slaughterhouses” are the only option. Custom slaughterhouses are regulated under state law, but federal law requires that the meat from a custom facility can only go to the individual or individuals who owned the animal at the time the slaughter took place. This means that the customer(s) must buy the whole animal while it is still alive, accepting a lot of variability and uncertainty in the pricing, quantity, and final product.
To sell meat by the cut, the way most people are used to buying it, farmers often have to haul their animals several hours away to reach a slaughterhouse that has an inspector on-site—even if they’re just selling the meat directly to consumers at a local farmers market or similar venue. This increases expenses for the farmer, raises prices for consumers, creates stress on the animals and undermines the concept of local food.
H.R. 3187, the Processing Revival and Intrastate Meat Exemption (PRIME) Act, would tackle one of the greatest challenges facing local farmers and consumers seeking local food —the lack of infrastructure, particularly the lack of inspected small-scale slaughterhouses. The PRIME Act would give individual states the freedom to permit intra-state distribution of custom-slaughtered meat to individual consumers, as well as to restaurants, hotels, and grocery stores that directly serve consumers. Custom-processed beef, pork, lamb, and goat are covered under the bill. Each state would be able to set the requirements and limitations on the custom slaughterhouses it considers appropriate.
The bill has already garnered bipartisan support; at the time this article goes to print, eleven Representatives from both parties have joined Representative Thomas Massie (R-KY), the author of the bill, in supporting local meat production: Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Walter Jones (R-NC), Jared Polis (D-CO), Jared Huffman (D-CA), Justin Amash (R-MI), Scott Garrett (R-NJ), John Garamendi (D-CA), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Scott DesJarlais (R-TN), John Duncan (R-TN), and Mike Coffman (R-CO).
Getting any bill through Congress is a long, arduous task. The more co-sponsors a bill has, the better its chances of getting a committee hearing or of being approved as an amendment to another bill.
Please take a couple of minutes to call or email your U.S. Representative, urging him or her to co-sponsor H.R. 3187, the PRIME Act. You can find out who represents you by going to www.house.gov or by calling the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121.
Here is a sample message for calls/ emails: “As a constituent, I urge Representative ____ to co-sponsor H.R. 3187, the PRIME Act. This important bill will make it easier for small farms and ranches to succeed financially and provide consumers with greater access to locally raised meats. The bill simply removes the federal ban on the sale of meat from custom slaughterhouses directly to consumers and venues serving consumers within a state, subject to state law. This returns power to the states to establish a regulatory scheme that makes sense for their citizens.
“The PRIME Act is the first step to rebuilding local processing infrastructure, which can revive rural economies and enable communities to become more self-sufficient in meat production.
“Please support our local farmers and consumer choice by co-sponsoring H.R. 3187.” Add you name and city and state.
Whatever issue you are advocating for, calls are far more effective than emails. While speaking about the PRIME Act at a recent event hosted by the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, Congressman Massie stated that as few as ten phone calls on one day would get his attention on an issue. Generally, hundreds of emails are needed for the same effect. Call and let your Representative’s staff hear the real live voice of a constituent who cares about this issue!
If you are a livestock producer, take a few extra minutes and ask to speak to the staffer who handles agricultural issues. Briefly explain to the staffer any problems you have faced with lack of access to inspected slaughterhouses, and how the PRIME Act would help your business and benefit your customers.
FDA ISSUES FIRST MAJOR RULE UNDER THE FOOD SAFETY MODERNIZATION ACT
On September 10, FDA released the first major final rule under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). This final rule addresses the standards for “facilities” that sell food for human consumption. The rule has staggered deadlines for compliance, so that large businesses will have to come into compliance in November 2016, while small businesses will have an additional one to two years depending on their size. The Produce Safety Rule, the other major rule under FSMA, is supposed to be finalized by late October of this year.
This first published final rule implements FSMA’s requirement that businesses that manufacture, process, pack, hold or store food implement “hazard analysis and risk-based preventive controls” (HARPC), including a written food safety plan that identifies the possible problems that could affect the safety of their products and outlines steps the facility would take to prevent or significantly minimize the likelihood of those problems occurring.
WAPF, together with many other groups, succeeded in fighting for an exemption for small, direct-marketing facilities from this rule. The Tester-Hagan amendment, which Congress included in FSMA, provides a “qualified exemption” for businesses that gross under half a million dollars annually and that sell more than half directly to individual consumers or local restaurants and retailers. Rather than do a full HARPC plan and implement the extensive verification procedures required for it, these small businesses need only do a simplified plan or submit documentation that they comply with state and local laws. The Tester-Hagan amendment also provided a qualified exemption for “very small businesses;” in the rulemaking process, we succeeded in getting the FDA to define very small businesses as those that gross under one million dollars annually, regardless of who they sell food to.
In the rulemaking process, we also fought to protect exempt businesses from having that exemption removed unfairly, prevent farms from being treated as facilities, and address some of the heaviest burdens that will be imposed on non-exempt businesses. We had success with some of these issues, although far from all.
One of the most important changes from the rule as originally proposed by FDA is in the definitions section, addressing how farms and farm activities are defined. Farms are exempt from this new rule, although they will have to comply (unless exempted under Tester-Hagan) with the produce safety rule that is due out in October. FDA’s final definition of a farm allows for multiple owners and multiple locations, reflecting the reality of many farms. In addition, the definitions of various farm activities, such as harvesting and packing, are more expansive and will help prevent farms from being misclassified as facilities for doing normal farm activities such as cleaning and bagging produce.
Unfortunately, the FDA still has not issued its final definition of “retail food establishments,” which are also exempt from this rule. In FSMA, Congress clarified that sales through direct-to-consumer sales platforms like roadside stands, farmers markets, and community-supported agriculture (CSAs) operations were included within the exemption for retail food establishments. Yet FDA is draffing its fight in incorporating this provision in the regulations.
Another serious problem is that the process for withdrawing the qualified exemption under the Tester-Hagan provision is left far too much to FDA’s discretion and lacks appropriate procedural safeguards. We did succeed in getting a few improvements: pre-withdrawal notification and an opportunity to respond, a longer time frame for coming into compliance if the exemption is withdrawn, and a provision for reinstating the exemption. However, the timelines are still very tight.
The FDA did clarify in the final rule that it can only withdraw the exemption on specific farms, not classes of farms. In other words, FDA can withdraw the exemption on Farm X, but not on all raw milk cheese farms. That was the intention of the Tester-Hagan amendment from the beginning, and it is valuable that FDA has officially acknowledged it.
For those businesses that are not exempt, one of the potentially biggest problems is the requirements for supplier, or supply chain, verification. When Congress passed FSMA, it was sensitive to the fact that buyers are increasingly requiring audits of farmers and that—while an audit can provide a useful verification tool—it is only one tool to ensure that risks are being minimized across a supply chain. Congress specifically said audits could not be required as part of FDA’s new food safety framework. But FDA’s final rule includes requirements for supplier verification that create significant pressure to implement an audit system.
As originally proposed, the supplier verification requirement would even have imposed burdens on small facilities exempt under Tester-Hagan, if they sold to a facility that wasn’t exempt. In other words, to be a supplier of a nonexempt facility, the exempt facility would have to provide various assurances that would have created unknown liabilities. After WAPF and others objected, FDA modified the requirement so that the exempt facility need only provide assurances about its exemption.
The true impact of this rule on farmers and small food enterprises will ultimately be determined as the rule is implemented. FDA noted in the final rule that many of the specifics surrounding how these provisions will be implemented—and enforced—will be determined through the development of guidance documents. We will continue to to provide information on the rules, and we will work to protect producers of nutrient-foods.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Fall 2015