Packers have capacity, but…

Workers busy at the Sam Kane Beef slaughterhouse in Corpus Christi, TX. 

More help is on the way for small meat processors impacted by the pandemic.

A bill called Requiring Assistance to Meat Processors for Upgrading Plants (RAMP-UP) Act would help meat processors make facility upgrades and move to federal inspection to sell across state lines.

The bill is sponsored by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN-7), former Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK-3), and Reps. Sanford Bishop (D-GA-2), Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE-1), Chellie Pingree (D-ME-1), G.T. Thompson (R-PA-15), Jim Costa (D-CA-16), David Rouzer (R-NC-7), Angie Craig (D-MN-2) and Robert Aderholt (R-AL-4).

The legislation would amend the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 by inserting a new section: SEC. 298 Grants for improvements to meat and poultry facilities to allow for interstate shipment. The amendment would allow the secretary of agriculture to make grants to meat and poultry processing facilities for funding facility upgrades, planning activities, or other necessary improvements in order to become a federally inspected establishment.

Currently, state inspected and custom exempt processors may not sell meat across state lines and the process to become federally inspected can be a costly one.

Under the bill, grants could not exceed $100,000 and recipients must repay the amount in full if they do not become a federally inspected plant within 36 months. The secretary would require grant recipients to match federal grant funds on a dollar-per-dollar basis, but this requirement would be waived for fiscal years 2020 and 2021.

The secretary must also provide an annual report to the House Agriculture Committee, Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee, and the House and Senate Appropriations Committees on any grants made.

The secretary would also report on possible improvements to the Cooperative Interstate Shipment program and submit to the before-mentioned committees within one year of enactment.

The bill would provide $80 million in direct funding to remain available until expended through fiscal year 2023, and authorize $20 million in discretionary funding should more funds be necessary.

“Right now, America’s meat producers and processors are facing unprecedented market challenges. At a time when producers are experiencing increased demand for high-quality meat, meat processors across the United States are racing to increase their capacity to meet the demands of consumers and producers,” said Lucas. “The RAMP-UP Act gives processors the tools to become federally inspected facilities, which widens their customer base while maintaining strong inspection standards.”

The bill has broad support across the industry.

“The COVID-19 pandemic caused unprecedented disruptions to beef processing which were devastating to cattle producers,” said National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Vice President Don Schiefelbein. “The RAMP-UP Act addresses these supply chain issues by ensuring cattle ranchers and farmers have robust access to new markets regardless of where their livestock is processed.”

American Sheep Industry Association President Benny Cox commended the legislation, saying, “For America’s sheep producers, finding new markets and meeting demand for lamb is critical to our ability to thrive in a quickly changing environment… These grants will ensure our local establishments can meet our stringent food safety inspection system requirements and open a world of opportunity for sheep producers.” — Anna Miller, WLJ editor

Bill would provide $80 million

 

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