Once again, the Prime Act has been introduced back into the House of Representatives. This recent piece of administration was submitted last month by Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) and Rep. Chellie …
Once again, the Prime Act has been introduced back into the House of Representatives. This recent piece of administration was submitted last month by Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) and Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME).
What is the PRIME Act, or the Processing Revival and Intrastate Meat Exemption Act, you ask? It’s a bill to amend the Federal Meat Inspection Act for states to have the power to allow custom exempt facilities to process livestock to be sold in the retail market.
Currently in Pennsylvania a custom meat processing facility can take an animal owned by a customer and process it; it is then returned for the use of that customer, their family, guests or employees. The law also allows within these guidelines that if the animal is sold while it is alive to multiple buyers, it can be divided into portions, such as halves and quarters.
These facilities, however, cannot process livestock that is to be sold in the retail market: direct to consumers, to restaurants, boarding houses, grocery stores or hotels. Sometimes referred to as selling by the piece or by the cut, these animals must be slaughtered under U.S.D.A. inspection at a certified facility.
During the pandemic, this was a very hot topic in the meat processing industry because many of the larger facilities shut down, had labor shortages, or didn’t have the capacity for the sheer amount of product demand.
This caused many shortages in grocery stores and other outlets, and led to a huge demand for locally produced meat, which was greatly needed.
The downside, however, was that there wasn’t enough capacity at the small-to-medium-sized processing plants to handle the sheer demand for either custom exempt or USDA-inspected processing.
This proposed bill seems as if it should be pretty straightforward and an easy winner to continue moving through the process to become law. However, the bill has been proposed multiple times already and has yet to make it out of the House of Representatives.
Why, you ask? Food safety. Many of the larger industry players, such as the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) or the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) do not support this bill, because if it passed, the meat entering the retail market would not have to go through the federal meat inspection process.
The largest concern for human health is that there would potentially be more opportunities for lower-quality or tainted carcasses to enter the food chain.
On the other side of the aisle are farmers and ranchers who are trying to meet the needs of the consumer but struggle to compete with larger companies due to the limited number of USDA-inspected facilities in many areas across the nation. A growing population of consumers want to know where their meat comes from, and to have a direct relationship with these producers. Some of these groups are arguing that being able to process their livestock through custom exempt facilities only would reduce the travel time for stock to make it to facilities (usually hours away) and would be just as safe an option.
It’s this farmer’s take that I believe there is a middle ground to be made here for both sides, if each would be willing to sit at the table. There is no doubt that we don’t have enough capacity for local producers to get their animals in for processing. However, an additional complication at this point in time is for these smaller custom facilities to be able to increase their output with a struggling workforce pool. Due to size and scale, small producers cannot compete with the pricing structure that a larger facility can (at this point). It’s difficult to keep a good workforce when these folks can go work for a fast-food restaurant, get paid more, and don’t have to work half as hard.
My opinion is that if these custom exempt facilities had a certification process they would have to follow similar to the ServSafe program, it could kill two birds with one stone. Hazard Analysis of Critical Control Points (HACCP) is a good place to start, but would need to be branched out further to meet these needs. At the end of the day, there would be a trained workforce in food safety at each facility and that would negate the need to have a certified USDA inspector on site during slaughter. The state would still need to continue their inspections to ensure everything is being followed, but it would lessen the stress on their hands.
If you’re interested in reading more about the proposed bill visit https://massie.house.gov/uploadedfiles/prime_act_118th.pdf.
No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here