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Where’s the Beef? Congress’s COVID-19 Relief Packages Contain a Conspicuous Omission

Federal law prevents farmers from slaughtering meat in their communities, which contributed to the meat shortage during the pandemic

Arlington, Va.—As Congress prepares August legislation to help a nation still battling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s one important issue that remains unaddressed: the country’s meat supply. Months ago, the pandemic exposed a major weakness in America’s food supply system; under current federal law, ranchers and farmers may only slaughter and process livestock at a few existing USDA-inspected facilities. About 50 mega-facilities are responsible for 98 percent of the country’s meat production.

Because there are so few slaughterhouses, the closing of even one can cause serious problems for consumers and ranchers, which is exactly what happened during the pandemic and contributed to a severe meat shortage. Multiple slaughterhouses closed after these industrial-sized facilities became hotbeds for coronavirus outbreaks. The result was that farmers had nowhere to bring their animals and had no choice but to euthanize millions of animals. Meat prices are still soaring from the resulting shortage.

Congress can fix this problem and prevent it from happening again with the PRIME Act.

The PRIME Act would allow small-scale farmers and ranchers to slaughter and process their animals at small facilities—known as custom slaughterhouses—within their communities, instead of hauling their animals hours away to USDA-approved meat packing plants. The Institute for Justice (IJ), a national nonprofit law firm that advocates for economic liberty and food freedom rights, supports this bill, which would benefit producers, consumers, animals, and the environment.

“The PRIME Act would make it easier for consumers to buy meat from local farmers and ranchers without compromising health or safety,” said IJ Senior Attorney Erica Smith. “Allowing animals to be processed nearby at small facilities is also much less stressful for the animals and more humane.”

Allowing slaughter at local facilities is safe. The law already allows farmers to slaughter animals for their own consumption at these facilities, which is a common practice. What’s safe for farmers and their families is safe for consumers. Public records from the USDA show that there has not been a single report of foodborne illness for at least eight years connected to any of these facilities nationwide.

“Americans want to buy food locally from people they trust. The PRIME Act will benefit consumers and farming communities now and over the long-term,” said IJ Activism Assistant Ellen Hamlett.

IJ is the nation’s top law firm for food freedom. IJ has won constitutional challenges to Wisconsin’s ban on the sale of home-baked goods and to Minnesota’s restrictions on the right to sell home-baked and home‑canned goods. IJ has also helped pass laws expanding the sale of homemade foods in several states across the country, including in Kentucky, Maryland, West Virginia and Wyoming.

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