Emergency Measures to Protect the US Meat Supply During and AFTER the COVID-19 Pandemic

Created on 2020-05-04 13:03

Published on 2020-05-04 16:19

Emergency Measures to Protect the US Meat Supply During and After the COVID-19 Pandemic

I. Background

Longstanding policies that favor concentrated control by global conglomerates have undermined American livestock producers and curtailed local economic opportunity. The effects of this “meat monopoly” have been exposed by coronavirus.

A.  Many American livestock producers depend on restaurant and institutional markets, which have closed due to COVID-19. Consumption has moved to in-home preparation. Mainstream meat processing plants can’t keep up with re-directed demand from retail stores resulting from restrictions on food-service businesses.

B.  Livestock producers could shift deliveries to fill the gap caused by increased consumer need to buy direct from farmers and from meat at grocery stores, but federal rules often prevent areas of high supply from selling to consumers or shipping across state lines into areas of high demand.

C.  Meat processing capacity at large plants has been significantly reduced due to spread of COVID-19, curtailed immigration, and ICE enforcement. About 27 large plants supply the majority of conventional meat products. Closures and reductions in available workers causes a noticeable effect on supply.

D.  There are thousands of small and medium size processing plants still operating, but they process animals at a slower (and safer) speed and are already overwhelmed by the increase in requests for processing caused by the closure of the big plants. They cannot take on new customers and services are sometimes reserved twelve months out. This bottleneck will tighten after spring feeding when mature fattened animals are ready for market.

E.  Lack of access to livestock processing creates economic and social distress among livestock producers.

1.   Producers are feeding mature animals without a market to sell them to.

2.   Monopoly livestock markets are offering to buy at prices below production costs.

3.  Live animals are being sold for pennies on the dollar an any taker.

4.   Some herds and flocks are being killed en masse.

F. American shoppers will experience reduced availability of meat and increases in the retail price of meat as supply tightens.

G.  Killed-off herds will take years to rebuild and rebalance.

H.  Foreign meat producers using substandard practices are allowed to sell imported meat as Product of USA.

1.   Consumers are mislead and confused by untruthful and fraudulent labeling

2.   Global meat conglomerates use their own fictitiously low import pricing to quash value of US livestock. American producers must compete with a phantom foreign market.

3.  Many retailers and pacakged brands knowingly buy foreign meat and label it Product of USA despite its source.

II.  Governing Laws and Regulations

A.  Federal Oversight

1.  USDA Inspected Plants – FSIS Inspection Requirements

a)  Inspector present before, during and after slaughter to ensure animals are healthy and slaughter is humane and safe.

b)  Unfit animals quarantined or refused

c)  USDA trained inspector on site during processing

d)  Facility is inspected constantly for sanitation practices while operating

e)  Pathogen testing at intervals

f)  Unfit meat from animals is diverted and destroyed

g)  Meat graded primarily on fat marbling and age

h)  USDA “Mark of Inspection” allows interstate sales & exports

i)  Inspection services paid for by USDA

2.  State-Inspected Plants (state regimen must match federal requirements)

a)  The Federal Meat Inspection Act of 1967 (FMIA) and the Poultry Products Inspection Act of 1968 (PPIA) limits state-inspected meat to intrastate sales. 1,900 small or very small establishments in 27 states operate under this FSIS-approved regimen. The remaining states have only federally inspected plants and exempt facilities.

b)  The Talmadge-Aiken Act of 1967 established Federal-State cooperation using state employees to provide federal inspections to allow for interstate sales. 360 establishments in nine states operate under these provisions. All states may agree to recognize these federally-sanctioned state inspection programs to allow transport and sale between their states, under the Cooperative Interstate Shipment of State Inspected Meats program.

c)  2008 Farm Bill allows states to opt to create their own inspection systems the “same as” the federal government’s and then may ship across state lines, but eligible plants are limited to those with an average 25 or fewer employees.

d)  Under some state programs all or part of inspection costs are paid by USDA.

3.  Foreign Slaughter and Processing

a)  Meat from livestock slaughtered and processed overseas under another nation’s laws may be imported into the US. After minimal cutting or packaging in the United States, it can be labeled “Product of USA”.

b)  USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service “Policy Book” allows “Product of USA” label on imported meat.

4.  Establishments Exempt from Meat Processing Inspection

a)  Restaurants and commissaries doing further processing carcasses or meat cuts for their own customers.

b)  Custom processors providing slaughter of animals and cutting of meat owned by their customers and delivered to their customers marked “Not for Sale”. Referred to as “Custom-Exempt”.

c)  Slaughter and processing by an individual for personal use and non-paying guests

d)  Poultry processing up to 20,000 birds a year for in-state sale if regulated by the state.

e) Note: all exempt facilities must still comply with FSIS safety and sanitation rules and may be subject to state/local inspection and licensing as food handling facilities.

III.  Proposed Emergency Measures

A.  Allow meat processed by Custom Exempt Processors to be resold to consumers within each state subject to safety oversight.

1.  Establish minimum qualifications and training for full time on-site inspectors at Custom-Exempt processors to allow for sale within the state.

2.  Enforce appropriate staging, slaughter, processing and storage rules for small scale processors to maintain a high level of animal welfare and food and worker safety.

3.  Require expanded labeling for resale meat, including “Processed and Inspected under emergency COVID-19 rules”.

4.  Require purchaser’s name and contact information to be logged by seller to ensure traceability and contact in case of recall.

5.  Re-employ healthy experienced workers and inspectors from closed plants.

6.  Invest in local infrastructure, training and employment opportunities.

7.  This measure essentially implements the PRIME Act under temporary emergency rules but requires on-site inspection while operating.

B.  Expand capacity at state-inspected meat processing establishments by allowing new inspectors to cover additional plant shifts.

1.  Establish minimum qualifications and training for additional inspectors to expand capacity through additional lines or extended hours.

a)  Veterinarians and Vet Techs with training on large animal health

b)  Persons with specialized experience, training, and meat processing in meat processing

2.  Allow existing state inspectors to oversee and review temporary inspectors.

3.  Appoint a statewide coordinator to approve emergency inspectors with guidance from USDA.

4.  Reopen closed and shuttered small processing establishments using start-up grants and loans.

C.  Allow meat processed by state-inspected establishments to be sold across state lines.

1.  State inspections already match federal practices.

2.  Fund additional hiring and training of qualified on-site inspectors to expand capacity.

3.  Draft expanded labeling requirements including “Inspected by [state name] Dept of Agriculture in compliance with USDA FSIS Rules.”

4.  This would allow 1900 processing plants in 27 states to sell into interstate commerce.

D. End fraudulent and misleading loopholes for in-store retail signage and label claims regarding origin of meat:

a)  Reserve “Product of USA” exclusively for meat from animals born, raised and processed in the United States of America. An example of change to state law:

“A retailer who sells beef or offers beef for sale shall use a conspicuous placard that is readily viewable by the public and placed where the beef is located to designate and display the beef as: (A) “U.S.A. Beef” if the beef is exclusively from animals born, raised, and slaughtered in the United States or born and raised in Alaska or Hawaii and transported for a period of not more than sixty days through Canada to the United States and slaughtered in the United States; or “Imported” if the beef is from any animal born, raised, or slaughtered in any foreign country. The placard for Imported Beef must indicate each country.”

b)  Current federal FSIS policy allows imported meat to pass through US plants and be labeled “Product of USA”. This loophole creates unfair competition with domestic producers, significant meat safety issues, and is a fraudulent representation confusing to American consumers. Here is the proposed change to the FSIS Policy Book:

Product of the USA Labeling – The Committee is aware of a citizens’ petition to amend the Food Safety and Inspection Service’s Standards and Labeling Policy Book as it pertains to meat and meat products bearing the label of “Product of U.S.A.” The Committee acknowledges that FSIS’s current definition that allows for meat and meat products to bear the label “Product of U.S.A.” if “the product is processed in the U.S.” is incongruent with the vast majority of consumers’ perception of the “Product of U.S.A.” label. The Committee urges the Agency to clarify the current regulations to ensure that “Only meat and meat products from animals born, raised and harvested in the United States are allowed to bear the label “Product of U.S.A.”

E.  Direct government purchasing programs to access domestic, local and smaller scale meat processing sources first.

F.  Ban government purchases of meat raised or processed in other countries.

IV.  Current Legislation

The PRIME Act would repeal the federal ban on the sale of meat from custom exempt slaughterhouses. The bill returns control to the states to address the issue of meat processing. States would be able to permit producers to sell meat processed at a custom slaughterhouse within the state. States could choose to impose whatever conditions or limitations that best suited their particular agricultural, food system, and social conditions. These facilities meet state regulations as well as basic federal requirements. They are typically very small with few employees. The extensive and complicated federal regulations that apply to massive meatpacking facilities are neither needed nor appropriate for these operations, which might process as much meat in an entire year as the large facilities do in a single day. Their small scale also means that they are better able to provide necessary social distancing and sanitation measures while safely continuing operations.

A.  The PRIME Act could help improve access and reduce meat prices for consumers in the coming months, while providing income for small farmers and ranchers across the country. And it has many long-term benefits:

1.   Help establish vital infrastructure in rural communities.

2.   Improve farmer incomes and opportunities.

3.   Increase consumer access to locally raised meats.

4.   Reduce stress on animals from long-distance hauling.

5.   Reduce transportation miles and greenhouse gases.

B. Small Plant Safety Under the PRIME Act.

Some believe the PRIME Act may not provide adequate food safety oversight to ensure only wholesome meat products reach consumers. Suggested amendments to fix this oversight while still keeping to the intent of the bill are:

1.   Establish minimum qualifications and training for full time on-site inspectors.

2.   Enforce appropriate rules staging, slaughter, processing and storage for small scale and low volume processors to maintain a high level of animal welfare and food and worker safety.

3.   Require expanded labeling for resale meat, including “Processed and Inspected under emergency COVID-19 rules”.

4.   Require purchasers to provide name and phone number or email to Custom Exempt seller to ensure traceability and contact in case of recall. Wholesale purchasers will maintain their normal FDA approved recall response protocols to notify their customers.

5.  Encourage custom-exempt plants to re-employ healthy and experienced workers and inspectors from closed plants

V.  Resources and Sample Letters

1.  Sample letter to Governors and Departments of Agriculture (on request)

2.  Sample letter to Members of Congress (on request)

3.  Sample letter to USDA Secretary of Agriculture (on request)

4.  Sample letter to White House (large type, on request)

5.  Phone numbers and emails (on request)

a) Federal legislators, regulators, state Ag and Governor info

6.  References to each law and reg mentioned above:


b) Federal-State Cooperation on Meat Inspection

c)  Federal-State Cooperative Agreements: GAO Report

d)  State Depts of Ag Regulations Overview

e) Primer on US Food Safety Regulation – Report to Congress

f) Talmage-Aiken Act (State Inspection for Interstate Sale)

7.  FSIS Food Standards and Labeling Policy Book

8.  ATTRA / NCAT Resources:

· Finding a Local Poultry Processor

· NCAT Directory of Small Poultry-Processing Plants and Services

· Special Help for Small and Very Small Processing Plants

· Mobile Processing Units

· Red-Meat Inspection Basics

· Niche Meat Processing Assistance Network (NMPAN)

·  ATTRA Publications about Meat Production

· Resources about Small-Scale Meat Processing

9.  Primer on Livestock and Grassland Ecology (by the author – on LinkedIn)

10.  National Association of State Agriculture Departments Resources:

·       Interstate Meat Shipment Issue Paper

·        Map: Number of State-Inspected Meat and Poultry Plants

·        Interstate Meat Shipment Creates a More Uniform Inspection System

·        Interstate Meat Shipment: Fairness in Trade

·        Interstate Meat Shipment: History of Support from USDA and Congress

·        Interstate Meat Shipment: Expands Small Business and Rural Development

·        Interstate Meat Shipment: More Competitive Markets

·        Coalition Urges Action on Interstate Meat Sales Legislation

·        Interstate Sales Legislation is about Economic Fairness

·        The Real Facts About State Meat And Poultry Inspection

·        ND Department of Agriculture

·        Urgent Need to Improve the Relationship & Communication between FSIS and the State Inspection Programs

·        State Review Process of Meat Inspection Programs

·        Implementation of the New Title V Interstate Meat Shipment Program

·        Letter to Secretary Vilsack Conserning Interstate Meat Inspection Programs3/06/09

·        Implementation of the New Title V Interstate Meat Shipment Program: Recommendations

·        Interstate Meat Sales Bill Introduced

·        House Interstate Sales Bill Introduced

·        State Agriculture Officials Urge Action On Interstate Meat Sales Legislation -Group Launches National Grassroots Campaign to Support Passage

·        Coalition Urges Action on Interstate Meat Sales Legislation

·        Interstate Sales Legislation is about Economic Fairness

·        Compromise Reached on State Meat Inspection

·        Letter from Fred L. Dailey in support of S 1988

·        Coalition Letter to the Senate Agriculture Committee in support of S.1988

·        2000-09-19 S. 1988, the New Markets for State-Inspected Meat Act

·        Letter Requesting Status on Report to Congress Reviewing State Meat and Poultry Inspection Programs

·        2005-10-13 Letter Requesting Meeting to Discuss Interstate Meat Shipment

·        Urgent Action Request-Senate Action on Interstate Meat Shipment

·        Interstate Shipment of State-Inspected Meat and Poultry Products Letter of Transmittal, November 2, 1999

·        Action Alert-The Senate Ag Committee is meeting today to decide whether or not to take action on interstate meat shipment legislation on S.1988

Hatch-Daschle substitute amendment to S. 1988, legislation to lift the unfair ban on interstate shipment of state inspected meat.

Header Photo: Business Insider

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