New bill would allow small meat processors to expand

Bipartisan efforts to support local businesses and livestock producers continued in Congress, with the recent introduction of the Strengthening Local Processing Act by U.S. Sens. John Thune, R-SD, and Jeff Merkley, D-OR.

Sens. Susan Collins, R-ME, and Angus King, I-ME, are co-sponsors of this legislation.

The legislation, which was also introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Reps. Chellie Pingree, D-ME, and Jeff Fortenberry, R-NE, in September, seeks to address market disruptions created by the coronavirus pandemic.

Johnathan Hladik, policy director for the Center for Rural Affairs, said he’s pleased with the support the bill has received and encourages the full House and Senate to move quickly with its passage.

“This legislation reflects the priorities of farmers and business owners from across the nation,” he said. “We are proud to have played a part in its development and applaud this bipartisan group of lawmakers for their willingness to act.”

When the country’s largest processing facilities had to close earlier this year because of COVID-19 concerns, Hladik said, commodity producers flooded local meat lockers with their product. With already limited reservation space being taken up by large growers, longtime customers had to schedule orders up to one year in advance. The recent growth in consumer demand for local food ensures this backlog will continue, he said.

Under the Strengthening Local Processing Act, a grant program to help cover costs associated with meeting federal or state inspection guidelines and to assist processors in expanding their infrastructure would be established. Additionally, the bill invests in the next generation of small meat processors by offering grants to train small-plant operators and employees.

“New markets are new opportunities,” Hladik said. “Small meat lockers are catalysts for economic activity. The Strengthening Local Processing Act will make it possible for these businesses to grow and expand.”