December 21, 2020
WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Angus King (I-Maine) have introduced the Strengthening Local Processing Act, bipartisan legislation that would provide much-needed federal support to America’s small meat and poultry processors and help strengthen and streamline their operations. The legislation would give small food processors more access to information that is critical to food safety planning, allow more inspector-approved meat products to be sold across state lines, and funnel federal dollars toward training, education, and technical assistance grants. In addition to Senators Collins and King, this legislation’s original sponsors are Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).
“The supply chain disruptions and restaurant closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have placed increasing financial pressure on Maine’s rural farming communities, including our small farms that raise livestock,” said Senator Collins. “This bipartisan bill would provide some relief by clearing unnecessary, bureaucratic hurdles, which would ensure that the livestock raised in Maine can also be processed right here in our state by local, family-owned food processors and butchers.”
“Maine’s small family farms and meat and poultry processors are key building blocks of communities across our state, providing healthy, locally raised meat for their neighbors and making important contributions to the local economy,” said Senator King. “I’m proud to work with Senators Thune and Merkley to empower small processors to do their jobs and grow their businesses. It’s our hope that this legislation will act as a helping hand in these difficult times by directing resources and investments to where they can do much good and bolster local economies around the country.”
“As both a farmer and as an owner operator of a small meat processing facility, I feel reform is greatly needed in the industry,” said Jason Tessier of Tessiers Farm in Skowhegan. “During a time of continued uncertainty and volatility in the industry, these small plants offer stability, and collectively cushion the supply chain shocks we have experienced due to COVID-19. I feel the proposed bill would offer much needed support to these small businesses, both in the way of financial assistance and also by increasing capacity through training, and streamlining process's, which would allow many of these owner operator facilities to focus more efforts toward food production.”
The Strengthening Local Processing Act would require the Food Safety Inspection Service to establish a searchable database of peer-reviewed, publicly available studies to establish and maintain Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) plans. This step would help small food processors develop their own HACCP plans and help expedite the HACCP approval process.
To incentivize more states to establish meat and poultry inspection programs—which small food processors need to approve their products—the legislation would increase the federal government’s cost-share for the programs from 50 percent to 65 percent. The bill would also allow state-inspected meat facilities to operate as federal inspection facilities, allowing more small and local processors to ship their products to other states and countries.
Lastly, the Strengthening Local Processing Act would create a grant program to support small plants by providing reimbursement grants to help cover costs associated with meeting state or federal inspection guidelines, expanding infrastructure to establish or increase harvest and processing capacity, and adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic and future market needs.
To meet education and training needs in the processing industry, the bill would also establish training grants to support and train small plant operators, small plant employees, and the next generation of meat processors and butchers. In addition, $10 million would be authorized in discretionary funding for higher education training and processor career training.