Pingree, Fortenberry, Thune, Merkley Introduce Legislation to Expand & Strengthen Local Meat Processing Capabilities

WASHINGTON, D.C.— Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) and Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.), joined by Senators John Thune (R-S.D.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Wash.) today introduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation to support small meat and poultry processors. The Strengthening Local Processing Act will increase options for local livestock and poultry producers and assist smaller facilities as they adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic and expand to meet consumer demand. The legislation is also cosponsored by Rep. Ann McLane Kuster (D-N.H.) and Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine), Angus King (I-Maine), Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), and Bob Casey (D-Penn.).

“The lack of processing infrastructure is one of the top concerns I hear from Maine’s small livestock producers. Their livelihood depends on having somewhere to take their animals,” said Pingree. “The Strengthening Local Processing Act will support increased slaughter and processing capacity in Maine, enhance opportunities for local producers, help small slaughterhouses and butchers grow their businesses, and provide consumers with the locally-raised meat and poultry they are asking for.”

“There is a broadening concern over corporate concentration in the meatpacking industry.  In a previous time, we had more local meat processing.  This bill helps stimulate a return to that previous model, creating a robust market in local economies, linking the farm to the family,” said Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (NE-01), Ranking Member, House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, and Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 

“The pandemic highlighted significant vulnerabilities in our nation’s food supply chain, especially when it comes to meat processing capacity,” said Thune. “South Dakota’s producers work hard to raise high-quality livestock, and we need to invest in expanding processing capacity to help meet consumer demand for their products. I’m proud to team up with Sen. Merkley and Reps. Pingree and Fortenberry on this bipartisan legislation to support to America’s small meat and poultry processors and help strengthen and streamline their operations.” 

“Oregon’s family ranchers shouldn’t be at the mercy of giant conglomerates when they go to process their products,” said Merkley. “By strengthening local processors, we can ensure greater competition, help keep food local, and make it a little bit easier for family ranchers to thrive in a challenging market.”

Under federal law, in order for a farmer or rancher to sell individual cuts of locally raised meats they must first send their animals to one of a limited number of U.S. Department of Agriculture or state-inspected slaughterhouses. These slaughterhouses are sometimes hundreds of miles away and there are far too few of them across the nation. As a result, many smaller meat and poultry processing plants are booked out for months, and small farms are unable meet new demand due to a lack of processing capacity. 

The Strengthening Local Processing Act will increase the federal share of costs for state inspection from 50 to 65 percent and for Cooperative Interstate Shipment (CIS) facilities from 60 to 80 percent, thus encouraging more states to operate state inspection programs and participate in CIS. There are currently 27 states that operate a state inspection program and eight states that participate in CIS. The legislation would also authorize competitive grants to small and very small establishments, state inspected facilities, custom exempt facilities, or new small-scale slaughter facilities for activities related to COVID-19 response and recovery. It would also authorize a new $10 million grant program for colleges and universities to establish or expand meat processing training program and a new $10 million grant program for small and very small establishments or nongovernmental organizations to offset the cost of training new meat processors.

Read statements of support for the Strengthening Local Processing Act online here.

Pingree is an organic farmer who raises grass-fed beef and chickens on her island farm in North Haven, Maine. She is a member of the House Agriculture Committee and Vice Chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture. Pingree is the co-author of the PRIME Act, legislation that would remove hurdles for small livestock farmers by allowing them to sell their locally raised, custom-exempt processed, meat directly to consumers.