Policy Update: AFT Submits Comment to USDA on Meat Processing Infrastructure
Yesterday, AFT submitted a new set of comments to USDA on Investments and Opportunities for Meat and Poultry Processing Infrastructure. Although this is not an area where AFT typically specializes, we felt that due to the pandemic’s particular impacts on producers selling to local and regional markets, this was an important issue to weigh in on.
Our research showed that meat processing infrastructure is sparsely located across the nation, meaning that many producers lack consistent access to services and struggle to receive fair prices. The comment focused on improving efficiency and capacity for small and midsize meat processing facilities, especially those that perform fee-for-service processing, where a farmer or rancher pays a processor to butcher their animals, and then the producer directly markets the meat. We recommended providing additional grants and loans to support increased technical assistance and business technical assistance, mobile slaughter units, workforce development programs, and general capacity-building.
Our comments are outlined below:
- Provide Additional Support to Increase the Viability of New and Existing Small and Midsize Meat Processors
- Permanently authorize the Meat and Poultry Inspection Readiness Grant (MPIRG) program, and increase the maximum payment to $500,000.
- Develop competitive grant and low-interest loan programs to support the establishment, improvement, and expansion of small and midsize meat processors.
- Increase the level of USDA education, outreach, and technical assistance available to small and midsize meat processors.
- Provide Funding for Additional Mobile Processing Units and Support Infrastructure
- USDA should conduct an opportunity assessment for scaling up the use of mobile processing units across the nation.
- Develop a new program that offers competitive grants and low-interest loans to develop mobile processing units to help fill gaps in processing capacity.
- USDA should offer competitive grants and low-interest loans for the purpose of establishing and scaling-up various services associated with mobile processors in order to increase their impact, such as rentable coolers and freezers.
- Use Recent Relief Funding to Scale-Up Business Technical Assistance for Small and Midsize Meat Processors
- USDA should set aside $300 million from the American Rescue Plan Act to scale up one-on-one business technical assistance for small and midsize farm and food businesses, and ensure that a significant portion of this funding goes to organizations that have a track record of providing services to socially disadvantaged producers.
- Increase Workforce Development Opportunities to Relieve Staffing Bottlenecks
- Provide competitive grants to develop training courses designed to give students basic skills in stunning, slaughter, meat cutting, and butchering, as well as special certifications in humane animal handling, sanitation, and more.