Food Freedom

PRIME Cuts: Bill Would Slaughter Federal Regs on Small Meat Processors

COVID-19 has exposed the problems of a centralized food supply and built momentum for sweeping deregulation of the meat industry.

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Lawmakers in the House and the Senate filed joint bipartisan bills last week reintroducing legislation that would decrease federal regulation of meat production. This would decentralize the food industry and make it easier for small local meat producers to compete with larger firms.

The Processing Revival and Intrastate Meat Exemption (PRIME) Act is sponsored by Reps. Thomas Massie (R–Ky.) and Chellie Pingree (D–Maine) in the House, and by Sens. Mike Lee (R–Utah), Angus King (I–Maine), and Rand Paul (R–Ky.) in the Senate. As currently advertised, the two bills have 39 co-sponsors in total. The majority of the co-sponsors are Republicans, but include a few Democrats in agricultural constituencies, like Reps. Jared Huffman (D–Calif.), Darren Soto (D–Fla.), and Joe Courtney (D–Conn.).

The bill would remove the requirement that all slaughterhouses be subject to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) rules and inspections. Instead, it would be up to states and towns to set their own rules for slaughtering livestock. 

As Reason's Baylen Linnekin noted when the PRIME Act was first introduced in 2015, and again in 2017, large meat producers selling across state lines would still be subject to USDA regulations, but this legislation means that small local producers selling meat within their states would have significantly less red tape to wade through when trying to serve their communities.

USDA-inspected slaughterhouses are few and far between, which means that local and corporate farmers alike often have to travel hundreds of miles to the nearest facility. There are only 86 "approved immediate slaughter facilities" in the United States. There are only three in the whole state of California, and none in my home state of Vermont.

This poses a huge financial burden for small farms, which have to resort to legal loopholes to get around regulations. Under current law, although it is illegal to sell meat from a non-USDA facility, it is legal for a small farm to sell you an animal—or a share of an animal—and kindly "offer" to slaughter it for you at a non-USDA slaughterhouse.

"I have a small cattle farm, and I've used both types of processing facilities—USDA and custom [not USDA] processor," Massie tells Reason. "Nobody has ever gotten sick from a cow I've sold them and gotten slaughtered at a custom place, and I can't see how they'd get sick from me selling them a hamburger slaughtered at the same place.…The PRIME Act is really just expanding this exception."

Massie also notes that custom slaughterhouses are still subject to local health regulations and surprise inspections just like a restaurant or a grocery store. Why do we let them cut up and sell meat, but bar farmers using these facilities from doing the same?

The PRIME Act would allow local grass-fed beef to be competitive with large-scale grain-fed beef. Even though grass-fed is more expensive to produce, if producers could get rid of the shipping overhead from transporting animals to USDA facilities, they could cut costs.

"When you buy beef at Kroger in Kentucky, the cow was probably raised in Kentucky, flown to Nebraska for processing and packaging, and sold back to Kentucky," says Massie. "We want Kentucky to be able to feed Kentucky."

This legislation is timely as the market for locally produced meat has only continued to grow since the bill was first introduced. And as Reason noted last year, pandemic shortages have revealed the limits of a centralized meat industry, which relies on big producers. This faulty system is reinforced by the mountains of regulation that push out local farms.

Fortunately, it seems that people in Congress from both sides of the aisle are taking note.

"The pandemic exposed serious problems in our supply chain—from toilet paper to cars to the meat in our grocery stores. Coupled with the recent ransomware attack on the world's largest meat company, it's clear that relying solely on industrial-scale meat processing is a liability," said Pingree in a statement on her website. "Congress must act to make it easier for local farms to compete with these big meat companies and make locally raised livestock processing more widely available."

"During COVID, we doubled the number of co-sponsors for the bill overnight," says Massie. He sees this as a breakthrough that has shown his colleagues that the current centralized agricultural system is broken. "Some Democrats are starting to understand that we can have greener, safer, and healthier meat if we have size-appropriate regulations."

Democrats should also be happy about the environmental benefits of such a bill. It would incentivize farmers to sell locally, decreasing the amount of energy expended on transportation.

Pingree tells Reason that she believes the sponsors don't accurately represent how many Democrats would be for the bill. "It's not a bill that's on everybody's radar screen," says Pingree, "but there are a number of progressive colleagues of mine, who if I sat down and explained the bill, would be in favor of it."

Massie sees the PRIME Act as a way to return the USDA to its constitutional limits, and give control back to states and localities. Massie believes that according to the Constitution, the federal government is only allowed to regulate "interstate commerce." That should mean the USDA can only regulate meat that is being sold outside of state lines.

"[The bill] should be constitutionally obvious," says Massie. "It's actually constitutionally redundant."

NEXT: It’s Time for Television To Get Super Weird for the Summer

Food Freedom Meat Regulation Deregulation Thomas Massie

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33 responses to “PRIME Cuts: Bill Would Slaughter Federal Regs on Small Meat Processors

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  2. I’m surprised the article didn’t go into the current state of meat, rather than going back to old pandemic articles. Seriously broken. Hog prices are dropping because there’s not enough capacity to slaughter the hogs. Pork prices at the store are at record highs because there’s too much demand.

    So, we get to pay twice as much for pork, the farmers are losing money on their herds. Seems like a broken market to me.

    USDA inspectors HAVE to be on site, on staff, all the time, for all meat processors. It is basically regulatory capture, making it too expensive to set up a new meat packing operation, even when retail prices are super high and there’s significant excess both of supply and demand.

    1. I saw two prime ribs sell for $45!!! This time last year, you could get four of the same size and quality!!! Truly, we are getting into Weirmar Republic territory!

      1. Exactly. I got some standing ribs at Easter, but there were no sales for the Memorial day holiday. No ribeyes, either, and pretty much a poor selection of any beef at all.

        At a time when the herd is not lacking at all. It’s all inability to process beef, this was before the ransomware attack. Something off when I get sockeye and wild caught ahi for less than beef.

  3. What we need to know is – does this law have provisions to prevent people calling soy patties ‘burgers’?

    Because mah consuma confusion!

  4. I know not everyone can, but those who can raise your own meat. Barter turkey for the grass fed beef or chicken for pork. Shoot an elk and no need to buy beef. I haven’t bought meat in years (excluding restaurants).

    Explore the alternatives.

    1. The majority of the population lives far away from good hunting grounds. Consider yourself fortunate.

    2. Also the majority of the population lives in places where they simply can’t raise animals. Again, consider yourself fortunate.

      1. Anyone with a backyard can raise rabbits and have a garden. Not self sufficient, but it is supplemental.

    3. Like the old cook book always said: “First, catch a rabbit…”

      (In season, of course, to avoid Tularemia.)

    4. I know everyone CAN ignore the state, ignore the bad laws (almost all), govern yourself, and socialize with those who do the same.

  5. Why are intrastate sales being subjected to interstate commerce regulations to begin with?

    1. It may go back to the FDR era scotus ruling. A wheat farmer used his wheat to feed his chickens and ran afoul of the interstate commerce people – barely human people at that. Tyrannical assholes

    2. It’s the political system. 1. People give away their power to rulers. 2. The rulers use the power to serve themselves by exploiting the ruled. 3. The people won’t reclaim their power by self-governing and won’t allow a minority to do it either out of fear it will expose their cowardice. The present politics uses the initiation of violence instead of reason, rights, individual choice, which is the only system that works, but requires self-respect, self-esteem, self-governance.

    3. The precedents were set in the 1930s if not earlier. Basically if commercial activity affects interstate commerce even indirectly it comes under federal jurisdiction. Of course this includes practically all commerce. Eg say I don’t sell meat across state lines. However, by competing with out of state producers I affect the price of meat across state lines. Boom! It affects interstate commerce!

  6. This article makes reasonable points but gets its facts wrong. “Immediate slaughter” plants have special licenses for handling animals imported from Canada or Mexico. In fact there are six USDA slaughterhouses in Vermont that handle US animals and 19 in California. That still is not very many and I know that here in upstate NY it is a huge hassle for farmers to schedule slaughter slots for their animals, like a year in advance. We have state “5A” processors that can handle some kinds of meat I agree they do just as good a job as the USDA ones. This is a clear case where regulation has outlived its utility.

  7. If excellent cases for deregulation were relevant to politicians, the regs wouldn’t be so destructive in the first place. Politicians rule based on self-benefit, i.e., politics as usual. “We the ruled” suffer exploitation, ignore it by “willful blindness”, and when it’s “in your face obvious” make feeble excuses, refusing to take responsibility for our compliance in our own enslavement.
    This has slowly become a nation of cowards, submitting to “crony socialism”, e.g., fascism.
    As long as people authorize an elite to rule over them, e.g., vote, they will continue to get ruled (enslaved) and then pretend it’s the fault of those they elected, when it’s the system they choose, they still support after 200+ years of failure.

  8. This bill has been introduced every year for the past 6+ years and reason has covered it every time, and clear majorities have supported it every single year.

    This is across 3 different administrations and many different congresses.

    I dont hold out much hope this is gonna be the year.

  9. great article! !

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