In the last week, the media headlines have included concerns about possible meat shortages. Livestock farmers and ranchers across the country are verging on bankruptcy – while consumers are facing increasing prices and empty shelves in the groceries. Texas state officials are reportedly advising Texas ranchers how to depopulate and dispose of their beef, while at the same time beef is still being imported into the U.S. from other countries. With hundreds of millions of livestock and poultry in this country, why are we having these problems? COVID-19 is not the reason for the problems, it’s just the straw that is breaking the camel’s back in our deeply flawed food system. Four companies control processing of over 80% of the country’s beef, and four companies control processing of two-thirds of the country’s pork. The consolidation has led to most meat being processed at massive plants where as many as 400 cattle are slaughtered an hour. Workers in these facilities labor under very difficult and often unsafe conditions – and that’s before you add in the issue of a highly contagious disease. Yet the government regulations are designed for these massive, industrial-scale facilities, making it difficult or sometimes even impossible for small-scale facilities to comply. And federal law requires that “state inspected” facilities use the exact same USDA standards, leaving no flexibility for states to develop standards better suited to small operators. So we have a shortage of small-scale processors in this country, and small-scale livestock farmers have few places they can take their animals for processing. In some areas of the country, the nearest USDA or equivalent state facility may be several hours’ drive away or more. There are alternatives, known as “custom slaughterhouses,” which legally operate in many states. But the meat from them can only be provided back to – and consumed by the family of – the person who owned the animal when it entered the slaughterhouse. A consumer who is not able to pay for and store hundreds of pounds of meat in one order is unable to access the meat from a custom slaughterhouse. And a farmer who wants to sell his or her beef, lamb, goat, or pork to consumers at a local farmers’ market or other local outlet cannot use a custom slaughterhouse. The PRIME Act, H.R. 2859/ S.1620, addresses this problem and can help with both the short-term crisis and the long-term change we need in our food system. TAKE ACTION TO SUPPORT THIS IMPORTANT BILL.

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