Reviving local meat processing

by Erica Shaffer
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WASHINGTON – A bill introduced in the US House of Representatives would allow individual states to develop their own rules for distribution of custom-slaughtered meat within state lines. Lawmakers announced The Prime (Processing Revival and Intrastate Meat Exemption) Act in late July.

Currently, custom meat products are exempt from federal inspection as long as the meat is for personal, household, guest and employee use. Meat sold to foodservice operations and consumers must be processed at US Department of Agriculture-inspected facilities.

US Reps. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) and Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) argue that the law costs small producers a lot of money in the form of transport and other fees because ranchers and farmers must send their livestock to USDA-inspected processing plants that sometimes are located hundreds of miles away from the producer. 

US Rep. Thomas Massie
US Rep. Thomas Massie
(photo: Gene Linzy Photography)

Massie, who keeps 50 head of cattle for grass-fed beef production, said he understands the challenges small producers face when trying to market their products.

“Despite consumers’ desire to know where their food comes from, federal inspection requirements make it difficult for them to purchase food from local farmers they know and trust,” Massie said in a news release. “These onerous federal rules also make it more difficult for small farms and ranches to succeed financially. It is time to open our markets to small farms and producers and give consumers the freedom to choose.”

Pingree said The Prime Act is a first step toward reviving local meat processing and rural economies by expanding the current custom processing exemption. Pingree also raises grass-fed beef at her farm in Maine. 

US Rep. Chellie Pingree
US Rep. Chellie Pingree

“If we can change the federal regulations a little to make it easier to process meat locally, it's going to help farmers scale up and give local consumers what they want,” she said.

USDA already offers a voluntary program that enables state-inspected small and very small meat processors to ship their meat across state lines. The Cooperative Interstate Shipment Program provides federal inspection services through state inspectors who have been trained in Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA) and Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA) requirements.

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