The USDA and FDA have been waiving multiple regulations to help big Agribusiness shift their supply and distribution chains during the COVID-19 outbreak. It’s time that they help small farmers!
Even before COVID, one of the biggest barriers to small farmers providing meat for their local communities has been the shortage of small-scale processors. The problem is largely due to USDA regulations that require “state inspected” facilities to meet USDA standards, which are difficult, expensive, and unnecessary for small-scale facilities that may process as much in an entire year as the massive meatpacking facilities do in a single day.
Several changes are needed, but the simplest one would be to lift the ban on the sale of meat from what are known as “custom” slaughterhouses. These processors meet state regulations as well as basic federal requirements. They are typically very small, with few employees. Their small scale means that they are better able to provide both social distancing and sanitation measures while safely continuing operations.
But the meat from a custom slaughterhouse can only be provided back to – and consumed by the household of — the person who owned the animal when it entered the slaughterhouse. A consumer who is not able to pay for and store hundreds of pounds of meat in one order is unable to access the meat from a custom slaughterhouse. And a farmer who wants to sell his or her beef, lamb, goat, or pork to consumers at a local farmers’ market or other local outlet cannot use a custom slaughterhouse.
Lifting the federal prohibition on the sale of meat from custom slaughterhouses could help small farmers step into the gap being left by the closures of large-scale operations, at least to some extent. This emergency measure is also good long-term policy, diversifying and strengthening our food system.
TAKE ACTION #1:
Join us in calling on the USDA to lift the ban on custom slaughterhouses as an emergency measure during the COVID-19 outbreak! With the closing of multiple massive slaughterhouses, even the big meat industry is acknowledging that they cannot properly function in this crisis – it’s time to help the small farmers feed their local communities.
Send your email to USDA Under Secretary Brashears at Mindy.Brashears@USDA.gov
A sample email is below. You can use it for ideas to write your own email, or simply add a sentence or two at the beginning about why this issue is important to you.
Dear Under Secretary Brashears:
The recent shutdown of major processing plants due to COVID-19 illness among plant employees has led to looming meat shortages for consumers, as well as devastating losses for many farmers.
I urge USDA to take a simple step to help alleviate this emergency: suspend the federal laws prohibiting the sale of custom meat in intrastate commerce.
Custom slaughterhouses have a great track record for food safety. USDA recalls over 20 million pounds of meat and poultry in an average year, but only a miniscule amount of that is attributed to meat slaughtered and processed at custom facilities. Custom plants’ small size not only allow them to implement good food safety measures, but also create a work environment where it’s easier to comply with the current social distancing measures.
Temporarily suspending the laws prohibiting the intrastate sale of custom meats can reduce the severity of the meat shortages and price increases for consumers while providing badly needed markets for farmers and ranchers.
I urge you to take this step immediately.
TAKE ACTION #2
Given the close ties between USDA and Big Agribusiness, getting the agency to lift the ban will be an uphill battle. So we need to fight for change on multiple fronts!
Congress can also take steps to address this problem. The PRIME Act, H.R. 2859/ S.1620
permanently repeals the federal ban on the sale of meat from custom slaughterhouses. The bill returns control to the states to address the issue of meat processing. States would be able to permit producers to sell meat processed at a custom slaughterhouse within the state. States could choose to impose whatever conditions or limitations that best suited their agricultural, food system, and social conditions. The bill would help with both the short-term crisis and the long-term change we need in our food system.
The bill has languished in Congress for a long time, but is gaining new support due to the news about closings.
If you represent a non-profit organization, or own a farm or ranch, we encourage you to sign on to a letter to the House Agriculture Committee urging them to move the PRIME Act forward! You can read the letter and sign on at: https://forms.gle/qSMx8kZohyc9aAQH6
The next action step is how all individuals can support the PRIME Act.
TAKE ACTION #3:
Call your U.S. Representative and Senators and urge them to sign on to H.R. 2859 and S. 1620. You can look up who represents you at https://www.congress.gov/ or call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121.
Below is a sample message for your call or email. Remember that calls have a greater impact, and only take a couple of minutes. Use this sample message as a starting point – tailor it to your own language and focus on why this issue is important to you. Personalized messages are the best way to convince legislators!
As a constituent, I urge Representative ____ to co-sponsor H.R. 2859, the PRIME Act. [OR: I urge Senator ___ to co-sponsor S.1620, the PRIME Act]
As Americans face potential meat shortages due to the closing of massive meatpackers, it is more important than ever to revitalize our local food production and processing. The PRIME Act opens up options for small livestock farms and ranches by removing the federal ban on the sale of meat from custom slaughterhouses within a state, subject to state law. This returns power to the states to establish a regulatory scheme that makes sense for their citizens.
At a time when we see empty grocery store shelves, and media headlines abut the failure of massive meatpacking companies to safely secure our food supply, this bill provides vital opportunities – and many long-term benefits. The PRIME Act supports local food production and small businesses, while also reducing vehicle miles traveled with livestock trailers and helping to meet the consumer demand for locally raised meat.
Please support consumers and small farmers by co-sponsoring H.R. 2859.
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.
NOTE: If your Representative is already a co-sponsor, be sure to say “Thank you!” when you call.
H.R. 2859 co-sponsors (with ** next to the most recent ones)
Justin Amash (R-MI)
Andy Biggs (R-AZ)
**Ken Buck (R-CO)
Tim Burchett (R-TN)
** Roy Chip (R-TX)
Joe Courtney (D-CT)
** Warren Davidson (R-OH)
Rodney Davis (R-IL)
Jeff Duncan (R-SC)
Matt Gaetz (R-FL)
John Garamendi (D-CA)
** Louie Gohmert (R-TX)
Jared Golden (D-ME)
Mark Green (R-TN)
Jared Huffman (D-CA)
Steve King (R-IA)
Thomas Massie (R-KY)
Tom McClintock (R-CA)
Mark Meadows (R-NC)
Carol Miller (R-WV)
Alexander Mooney (R-WV)
Scott Perry (R-PA)
Chellie Pingree (D-ME)
Elise Stefanik (R-NY)
Rashida Tlaib (D-MI)
Robert Wittman (R-VA)
S. 1620 was filed Senator Angus King (I-ME) and is co-sponsored by Rand Paul (R-KY), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN).