What does the PRIME Act do?

The PRIME Act would allow small farmers and ranchers to slaughter and process their livestock at local facilities called custom slaughter facilities, rather than hauling their livestock hours away to industrial meat packing plants. If passed, the PRIME Act would relieve our nation’s meat shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic, help small ranchers and farmers, allow consumers to buy local, and promote animal welfare—all while maintaining a safe food supply.

What is a custom slaughterhouse?

Custom slaughterhouses are small facilities that are used to slaughter and process meat for personal consumption. Currently, the meat slaughtered and processed at custom slaughterhouses can only be consumed by the livestock owner and his or her family, guests, or employees. These facilities are different from USDA-inspected and state-inspected facilities, which are designed for industrial-sized operations.

How are custom slaughterhouses inspected?

Custom slaughter facilities must follow federal, state, and local health and safety guidelines and are periodically inspected for cleanliness and safety— similar to how restaurants are inspected.

How many custom slaughterhouses currently exist?

There are about 1,800 across the country. But if the PRIME Act passes, many more would open to meet the increased demand for their services.

Would the PRIME Act force states to allow the sale of meat from custom slaughterhouses?

No, the PRIME Act would simply remove the federal ban on selling meat slaughtered and processed at custom slaughter facilities. States would then be free to pass their own laws and regulations allowing the sale of custom slaughtered meat directly to consumers and retailers within the state.

Where could the meat from custom slaughterhouses be sold?

The PRIME Act would give states the option to allow the sale of custom slaughtered meat through direct-to-consumer sales, such as on the farm, at a farmers’ market, or through retail venues like grocery stores and restaurants located within the state.

Do any similar laws exist?

Yes, federal law has a similar exemption for poultry. Federal law does not regulate farmers who slaughter and process their own birds, as long as they have 20,000 birds or fewer and only sell the birds within their respective state. This poultry is regulated at the state and local level, and most places allow farmers to slaughter their poultry on their own farms and sell their poultry directly to consumers and retailers. Farmers have used this exemption to safely sell their poultry for the last 40 years. The PRIME Act would similarly allow states to create local solutions for farmers and ranchers to process their other livestock.

What livestock would the PRIME ACT apply to?

Cattle, pigs, goats, and sheep.

What about meat safety?

Using custom slaughterhouses would not jeopardize safety. While USDA-approved slaughterhouses have different safety standards than custom slaughterhouses, custom slaughterhouses have been safely used for decades. Custom slaughterhouses are generally inspected annually and must abide by state law. Moreover, states would be free to impose stricter inspection and safety requirements on these slaughterhouses. The PRIME Act would simply reduce federal regulation and leave regulation up to the states. It makes sense that different regulations should apply to small local facilities than to industrial sized-facilities.

Many also argue that custom slaughterhouse facilities are safer because they process much less meat than the industrial sized USDA-approved facilities, and therefore reduce the risk of food safety issues. In fact, USDA-approved facilities suffer from frequent safety violations and meat recalls. According to the FSIS, 2,673,702 million pounds of beef, pork, and mixed meat products produced in 2019 were recalled for reasons including but not limited to the presence of extraneous material, as well as Salmonella, Listeria, and Shiga Toxin-producing Escherichia coli (commonly known as E. coli), which are among the most common meat-borne illnesses.

How is custom slaughter more humane for the animals?

Currently, animals have to travel hours in uncomfortable and sometimes hot trailers to the USDA-approved slaughterhouse facilities, which is very traumatic and stressful. It is also stressful for the animals to be kept in crowded holding pens at USDA-approved slaughterhouses. This stress is significantly reduced if the animals only have to travel just a few miles down the road to a custom slaughterhouse. These small, custom facilities also allow livestock owners to supervise the process and, if they choose, lead their animals to slaughter, which is calming for the animals.

How would the PRIME Act affect the environment?

By making custom slaughterhouses more accessible to many farmers, the PRIME Act would in many instances shorten transportation time from farm to slaughterhouse, thereby reducing transportation-related carbon emissions.

How will this exemption help in the wake of the COVID pandemic?

Allowing the intrastate sale of meat from custom slaughterhouses is an issue that farmers, ranchers, activists, and policymakers have been advocating for years. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has shined a spotlight on the meatpacking industry’s inability to be flexible in a time of disruption. Livestock farmers are uniquely positioned to provide meat to their local supply chain at a time their community needs it most— they just need the flexibility to do so. In addition, by allowing direct-to-consumer sales, the supply chain is shortened from a long, complex distribution chain spanning hundreds of miles, to a short, transparent farmer-to-household sale, which helps the local economy and is better for the environment.