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Help make local meat affordable again!
This is an unusual, perhaps once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to support a US bill to reverse the decades-long "go big or go home" approach to centralizing meat production.
I generally don’t write about anything political, but this is a highly unusual issue that gets to the heart of our food system and transcends the political polarization we find all around us.
Since the 1960s, the USDA’s “go big or go home” mentality has led to the enduring centralization of our food supply.
We now have our first big chance to reverse this by allowing local farmers to use local butchers without going through exceedingly expensive USDA-stamped intermediaries.
The ask is that if you live in the US you put in a phone call to your legislators to support it. Typically they receive only ten phone calls on a bill so a call carries a lot of weight.
Here is a guest post from my friend John Moody.
For around six decades, farmers and homesteaders across the US have faced a growing problem - the lack of accessible and affordable butchering options. Starting in the late 60s, changes to federal regulations lead to the loss of tens of thousands of abbatoirs and butcher shops across the country.
By the late 1990s, five or so companies controlled roughly 80% of beef, turkey, chicken, and pork consumed in the United States.
As the real food movement picked up steam, those trying to meet consumer demand met (and continued to met) a problem - there isn’t enough butchers and processors. Oftentimes, you have to schedule a year in advance for animals you don’t even have yet to get on a butcher’s calendar.
Some farmers are traveling two or three hundred miles, each direction, to get animals processed.
The cost to open a new, USDA inspected butcher shop is immense - multiple millions of dollars.
So farmers and those wanting real, local food suffer through long waits and increased prices.
Congressman Thomas Massie saw this situation and with the help of others, came up with a solution.
The main roadblock in America right now to greater affordable access to pastured, local meat is the Federal Meat Inspection Act and system, which makes people pork chop felons if meat they sell you doesn't first go through a USDA facility.
These facilities are few and far between, and often quite expensive. Many folks travel hundreds of miles both directions just to get an inspected facility - stressing out farmers and animals, increasing costs, and clogging up roads needlessly.
What if states could opt out of the federal meat program and allow folks to use whatever butcher they wanted within their state and set whatever rules for such sales? What if farmers could even butcher on farm again, like they did just sixty or so years ago?
That’s the Prime Act, the first substantive change to US meat regulation in almost two generations.
And the Prime Act has never had a better chance to become to pass than this week.
ACTION TO TAKE
The PRIME Act [House Resolution 2814 (H.R. 2814) and Senate Bill 907 (S.907)], needs co-sponsors and support from your representative and senators. Congress members report that they generally receive less than TEN CALLS about any particular bill or issue. Your phone calls and getting a few friends to call can make a major difference with regards to local meat and real food.
1. Meet with your U.S. legislators or their staffer from their offices.` Tap the links below to see who has cosponsored the bills:
You can look up who represents you at https://www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative
or call the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121.
It is best to call and leave a message and then follow up with a short email.
TALKING POINTS 1. Passage of the PRIME Act would better enable farmers to meet booming demand for locally produced meat. Right now in parts of the country, farmers have to book a slaughterhouse slot as much as 1-1/2 to 2 years out. Moreover, farmers often have to transport their animals several hours to a slaughterhouse, increasing their expenses and stressing out the animals which could affect the quality of the meat.
Passage of the PRIME Act would significantly increase access to local slaughterhouses.
2. Passage of the PRIME Act would improve food safety. Anywhere from 95% to 99% of the meat produced in the U.S. is slaughtered in huge facilities that process 300–400 cattle an hour. It is difficult to have quality control in the plant under those conditions no matter how many inspectors are present. The records bear this out. According to CDC statistics from 2005–2020, there were thousands of foodborne illness from the consumption of beef and pork. The big plants process more animals in a day than a custom house would in a year. There is better quality control in a custom slaughterhouse, inspector or no inspector. A 2020 FOIA request to USDA, seeking the number of foodborne illnesses from 2012 to 2020 attributed to the consumption of meat slaughtered and processed at a custom facility received a response from USDA that it had no record of any such illnesses. Custom operators have every incentive to process clean meat. Where a lawsuit against a big plant is just a cost of doing business, one lawsuit can easily shut down a custom house.
3. Passage of the PRIME Act would improve food security. Supply chain breakdowns and labor shortages have made the food supply more vulnerable. Passage of the PRIME Act would improve food security by increasing the local supply of quality meat, food that for most of us is critical for a healthy diet.
4. Passage of the PRIME Act would not be competition to the conventional meat industry; the meatpacker and small farms have mostly different markets. One sells mainly into the export market and big supermarket chains; the other sells into local communities direct to consumers and small mom-and-pop stores.
5. Passage of the PRIME Act would keep more of the food dollar in the state and community. The big food corporations send much of the money they earn out of the state; more of the money that local farmers, ranchers and custom house operators earn would circulate within the state and community, strengthening the local economy.
Current law provides that the sale of meat is legal only if the animal is slaughtered and processed at a facility under state or federal inspection; “inspection” in this context means that an inspector is present when slaughtering or processing take place. This requirement went into effect due to Congress passing the Wholesome Meat Act of 1967, disastrous legislation that has been largely responsible for the formation of oligopolies in the beef and pork industries. Custom slaughter and processing facilities do not require that an inspector be present, but only the owners of the animals are allowed to receive the meat slaughtered and processed at custom houses. The sale of custom meat is illegal. The PRIME Act would lift the federal ban on the sale of custom meat. Custom facilities would still be subject to federal and state regulations, including inspection; however, inspectors would no longer have to be on site at custom facilities during slaughtering and processing of animals for meat sales to be legal in intrastate commerce.
To see the previous WAPF alert from which the above is adapted from,
Much thanks to Pete Kennedy for all the work on this!