“Current federal laws and regulations—designed for large regional packers—create insurmountable economic barriers that keep local outfits from competing in the market,” said Sen. Lee. “By removing some of those barriers, local meat processers can rejoin local markets, processing backlogs can be alleviated, and meat prices at the local grocery store can stabilize.”
The legislation comes days after a ransomware attack forced the world’s largest meat processor to shut down nine U.S. plants and disrupted production at other facilities—reinforcing the importance of local producers in a resilient food supply chain.
Under current law, farmers and ranchers must have their animals processed at a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) certified facility to sell their product commercially. However, the limited availability of these facilities—which end up being large corporate entities that can afford to pay for USDA inspectors—can create enormous problems for the food supply chain, with the most burdensome impacts on farmers, ranchers, and grocery store customers.
The PRIME Act would exempt custom packers from the economic burden of the USDA inspection process, would shift more safety oversight to states—some of which already have equally rigorous inspection practices—and would break down barriers for small farms looking to sell their product in-state. This rebalance of power will help relieve the significant shortage of processing capacity while allowing small farms, ranchers, and slaughterhouses to thrive. By restoring the role of state government over intrastate commerce in this way, we will make it easier for farmers to supply their products to markets, restaurants, and grocery stores in their own state, which will give consumers more, and likely cheaper, options to access farm-fresh products.