Thank you to everyone who has taken action on the WAPF alerts about the PRIME Act! This bill would help remove one of the biggest barriers to local meat production, namely the lack of local meat processors that small farmers can use to process meat to sell at farmers markets and local outlets (more details in sidebar). The PRIME Act is now up to 22 co-sponsors —including Representative Colin Peterson, the ranking member (most senior Democrat) on the House Agriculture Committee.
Representative Peterson signed on to the bill after hearing from WAPF members in his district. The WAPF members didn’t sign an online petition or send a form email. Instead, they took a few minutes to call and send personal emails. Just a handful of personal contacts like that can be enough to get a legislator’s attention and support, as they did here.
The best chance for the PRIME Act to pass is as an amendment to the Farm Bill, which we also discussed in the last issue of Wise Traditions. There is a realistic chance of this happening, with a bipartisan list of co-sponsors that includes not only Rep. Peterson but also Rep. King (R-IA), another member of the House Agriculture Committee.
So what is happening with the Farm Bill? The public debates on it have repeatedly been delayed, while work has gone on behind the scenes. At the time this article goes to print, the best information on when the House Agriculture Committee will hold its “mark-up”—committee discussion—on the bill is the very last week of March or first week of April. The Senate Agriculture Committee’s timing is entirely unclear. The Committee’s version of the Farm Bill is expected to look a lot like the last Farm Bill. One key difference will be for the dairy and cotton industries, which were taken out of large industry programs in the last Farm Bill, based on the expectation that the export markets would keep prices high. With the export markets proving to be an exercise in international price-shopping that have pushed farmers’ prices below their cost to produce these goods, conventional dairy and cotton farmers have been desperate to have the programs restored.
But restoring these programs requires significant funds, and one of the delays in holding a hearing on the Farm Bill has been that the money required for this change would normally be taken out of other existing programs. But in February, Congress provided for the dairy and cotton programs within the omnibus budget—effectively increasing the total amount of money for farm programs within the Farm Bill. That unusual procedural move cleared the way for the Committee to move forward on the Farm Bill without having to make the difficult choice of what to cut to make room for dairy and cotton commodity programs.
All of these commodity programs are deeply flawed and a significant part of our dysfunctional agriculture and food system. Understandably, some WAPF members have expressed concern about linking the PRIME Act to the Farm Bill. But we face two realities at this time: (1) with or without our support, the Farm Bill will pass without major changes to its fundamental provisions, and (2) the PRIME Act is highly unlikely to pass except as an amendment to the Farm Bill. We can advocate for the PRIME Act to be added to the Farm Bill without expressing support for the Farm Bill as a whole —and, in doing so, help build more strength for a sustainable, localized food system.
Even if you have called or written before, now is an important time to contact your federal legislators and ask them to support 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. Remember, calls are far more effective, and they can take just a couple of minutes! If you send an email, be sure to add a couple of sentences at the beginning to personalize it.
Below is a sample text for calls or to help you craft your personalized email. If you have already called or emailed, then skip the text and simply call (or email) and note that you’re following up on your earlier call/email. Let your legislators know that this is an important issue to you, which you’re not going to simply forget about!
Sample message for calls or emails:
As a constituent, I urge Representative ____ to co-sponsor H.R. 2657, the PRIME Act, and work to include it in the Farm Bill.
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 cosponsoring
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. These personal stories about impacts to constituents are invaluable for impacting legislators.
ANIMAL ID POSTSCRIPT
In the last article in Wise Traditions, I talked about the USDA’s new plan to require electronic ID on cattle. At that time, USDA had said that it would publish its proposal in the fall, yet had since stayed quiet. Since then, we have learned that the proponents of electronic ID have changed their strategy. Rather than have the agency openly publish its intentions, it is staying quiet while the agribusiness and technology companies in the National Institute for Animal Agriculture work out all the details of how to implement the requirements. When they have their plan, they will take it to the USDA, who will then try to claim that it’s simply doing what “the industry” wants. We don’t plan to stay silent while they do this … stay tuned for action alerts!
PRIME ACT PRIMER
For those who may have missed earlier articles and alerts, H.R. 2657, the Processing Revival and Intrastate Meat Exemption (PRIME) Act, would tackle the scarcity of small-scale slaughterhouses by allowing the sale of meat by the individual cut from “custom” slaughterhouses. Currently, meat can only be sold by the individual cut if it is from an animal slaughtered and processed at a federal- or state-inspected facility.
Many farmers have a custom slaughterhouse much closer than a federal- or state-inspected facility. But under the current law, if the animal is processed at a custom facility, the meat 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, effectively purchasing hundreds of pounds of meat without knowing the final weight or price per pound. Not many people can or want to do this!
The PRIME Act would give individual states the freedom to permit intra-state distribution of custom-slaughtered meat to individual consumers and to restaurants, hotels and grocery stores that directly serve consumers. Beef, pork, lamb and goat are covered under the bill.
The PRIME Act does not dictate what states should do. Each state would be able to set the requirements and limitations on the custom slaughterhouses that it considers appropriate.
Custom slaughterhouses are generally small facilities where often only a few animals are slaughtered each day; contrast that with the USDA-inspected plants where up to 300-400 cattle are slaughtered per hour. Small custom slaughterhouses can provide better quality control and safety than the massive plants that process the majority of meat in our country. Thousands of Americans—hunters, homesteaders and farm families—already eat meat processed in custom slaughterhouses. It’s time to allow more choice for both farmers and consumers seeking local meat!