PRIME Act Reintroduced in Congress

On May 23, Representatives Thomas Massie (R-KY) and Chellie Pingree (D-ME), and Senator Angus King (I-ME) reintroduced the Processing Revival and Interstate Meat Exemption Act (H.R. 2859 / S. 1820), also known as the PRIME Act. The legislation would return power to the states to determine appropriate regulations for meat processing within their borders. The bills have been referred to the House Committee on Agriculture and the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, respectively.

The PRIME Act would give states the option of passing laws to allow the sale of custom-slaughtered and processed meat in intrastate commerce direct to the consumer and to venues such as restaurants, hotels, grocery stores, and boarding houses. Federal law currently prohibits the sale of custom-processed meat; meat from a custom facility can only go to the individual or individuals who own the animal at the time slaughter takes place–a requirement costing farmers a substantial amount of business. Many potential customers either don’t have the funds to buy a whole animal or the freezer space to store it.

Farmers who sell meat by the cut must use a slaughterhouse that has an inspector present during the actual slaughtering. Many communities in the U.S. have custom facilities nearby but not inspected slaughterhouses; this means hauling the animals several hours to an inspected facility, driving up the farmer’s costs and stressing the animals. There are places in this country where the farmer has to book a year in advance with the slaughterhouse under inspection for the slaughtering of livestock.

The decline in slaughterhouse infrastructure since the passage of the Wholesome Meat Act in 1967 has been one of the biggest problems small farmers face. The Wholesome Meat Act gave the federal government jurisdiction over meat processing and sales in intrastate commerce. At the time the Act passed, there were nearly 10,000 slaughterhouses in the U.S.1; as of January 1, 2019, there were 2,766.2

Passage of the PRIME Act is more important than ever. There continues to be growing demand for grass-fed beef, but with the lack of local slaughterhouses, small farmers are missing out on much of that business. Instead of business that could go to small American farmers, imported “grass-fed” beef has the dominant market share in the U.S. According to reports, 75% to 80% of grass-fed beef sold in this country is imported. Due to lax country-of-origin-labeling laws, much of this meat is labeled as being produced in the U.S.3

It remains to be seen how much market share laboratory plant-based “meat” will capture at the expense of small-scale livestock farmers, but the fake meat industry is growing rapidly at this time with support from major Wall Street banks and investment firms [see underwriters listed in the prospectus for Beyond Meat, Inc.4].

Small farmers badly need greater access to slaughterhouses to be able to compete on more even footing with agribusiness. Currently, only four companies control over 80% of the beef processing in this country; four companies control over 60% of pork processing.5

The meat industry consolidation has led to significant food safety concerns. Inspected slaughterhouses are stretched beyond capacity. In recent years the industry has had over 100 recalls each year totaling over 20,000,000 pounds of meat and poultry products being recalled annually.6

Few, if any, recalls and cases of foodborne illnesses have involved meat slaughtered and processed at a custom facility. Custom slaughterhouses are generally small facilities where often only a few animals are slaughtered and processed each day; contrast this with the USDA plants where up to 300-400 cattle are slaughtered per hour.7 The custom houses, even without an inspector on site, have a much better track record for food safety. Passage of the PRIME Act will improve food safety in the industry.

Representative Massie said, “Consumers want to know where their food comes from, what it contains, and how it’s processed. Yet federal inspection requirements make it difficult to purchase food from trusted local farmers. It is time to open our markets to give producers the freedom to succeed and consumers the freedom to choose.”8

The PRIME Act was originally introduced in 2015. In the House, H.R. 2859 and currently has eleven co-sponsors; the Senate companion bill, S. 1620 has two co-sponsors.

Please support this crucial legislation. The Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF) will be sending out an alert on the PRIME Act in the near future.

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[1] Riva Caroline Hodges Denny, “Between the Farm and the Farmer’s Market: Slaughterhouses, Regulations, and Alternative Food Networks ” (Master’s thesis), 2012, p. 2. Retrieved from Auburn University AUETD database, https://etd.auburn.edu/handle/10415/3247
[2] USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), Livestock Slaughter 2018 Summary, April 2019; Table “Livestock Slaughter Plants by Type of Inspection – States and United States: January 1, 2018 and 2019”, p. 62. Posted at https://downloads.usda.library.cornell.edu/usda-esmis/files/r207tp32d/8336h934w/hq37vx004/lsslan19.pdf
[3] Deena Shanker, “Most Grass-Fed Beef Labeled ‘Product of U.S.A.’ Is Imported”, Bloomberg News, May 23, 2019. Posted at https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-05-23/most-grass-fed-beef-labeled-product-of-u-s-a-is-imported
[4] Prospectus for Beyond Meat Inc. Posted at https://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1655210/000162828019004543/beyondmeats-1a5.htm

[5] USDA, Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration, 2016 Annual Report: Packers and Stockyards Program, Table 5 “Four-Firm Concentration in Livestock Slaughter by Type of Livestock and Poultry – Federally-Inspected Plants”, p. 11. Posted at https://www.gipsa.usda.gov/psp/publication/ar/2016_psp_annual_report.pdf

[6] USDA, Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS), Summary of Recall Cases for 2015-2018 are available at https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/recalls-and-public-health-alerts/recall-summaries
[7] National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine, & Food and Nutrition Board, Cattle Inspection: Committee on Evaluation of USDA Streamlined Inspection System for Cattle (SIS-C), Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1990, pp. 8, 11, 37, 73, 74, 75 & 86. Downloadable from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK235649/
[8] “Representatives Massie and Pingree Introduce Bipartisan PRIME Act to Empower Local Cattle Farmers, Meet Consumer Demand”, U.S. Representative Thomas Massie website (massie.house.gov), May 23, 2019. Press release posted at https://massie.house.gov/newsroom/press-releases/representatives-massie-and-pingree-introduce-bipartisan-prime-act-to-empower

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