U.S. Action: Support Local Meat in 2024 Farm Bill with Custom Slaughter Pilot Program (PRIME Act)

By Pete Kennedy

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Glenn Thompson (R-PA) has released a draft of the 2024 Farm Bill; the committee begins marking up the draft today, May 23. The good news is that a version of the PRIME Act has been included in the bill; Section 12114 is titled “Pilot Program to Support Custom Slaughter Establishments.”

Under Section 12114, a state Department of Agriculture may operate a pilot program allowing the sale of meat and meat food products in intrastate commerce that were slaughtered and processed in a custom facility. Sales must be direct to the consumer from either “the owner of the animals from which such meat products are derived” or “the custom facility at which the meat products were processed.” The same federal requirements applying to custom facilities in general apply to facilities in the pilot program, and there is an additional labeling requirement as well.

The pilot program is scheduled to run until September 30, 2029. For the first two years, up to five facilities in each state can be approved to participate in the pilot program; after that time, the number increases to 10 in each state for the remainder of the program. State- and federal-inspected facilities are not eligible to participate; any custom facility wanting to participate in the program must submit an application to the state agriculture department for approval.

If a state elects not to operate a pilot program itself, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture may approve up to 10 custom facilities in non-participating states to be part of the program for its first two years and then up to 10 more until the program sunsets.

The pilot program is a foot in the door toward establishing a permanent law allowing the intrastate sale of custom-slaughtered meat and strengthening the local slaughterhouse infrastructure throughout the country. It’s critical that the program remain in the Farm Bill.

Action to Take

  1. Call and/or email your U.S. Representative and ask that Section 12114—“Pilot Program to Support Custom Slaughter Establishments”—be kept in the House Farm Bill. Calls are best.
  2. Call and/or email both of your U.S. Senators and ask that Section 12114—“Pilot Program to Support Custom Slaughter Establishments”—be included in the Senate Farm Bill. Calls are best.

Explain why this is important to you, using the Talking Points below or other reasons you may have.

Talking Points

  1. Allowing the sale of custom meat would better enable farmers to meet booming demand for locally produced meat. Right now in parts of the country, farmers have to book a slaughterhouse slot as much as 1-1/2 to 2 years out. Moreover, farmers often have to transport their animals several hours to a slaughterhouse, increasing their expenses and stressing out the animals, which could affect the quality of the meat. Custom meat sales would significantly increase access to local slaughterhouses.
  2. Legal custom meat sales would improve food safety. Anywhere from 95% to 99% of the meat produced in the U.S. is slaughtered in huge facilities that process 300–400 cattle an hour. It is difficult to have quality control in a plant under those conditions, no matter how many inspectors are present. The records bear this out. According to CDC statistics, from 2005–2020, there were thousands of foodborne illnesses from the consumption of beef and pork. The big plants process more animals in a day than a custom house would in a year. There is better quality control in a custom slaughterhouse, inspector or no inspector. A 2020 FOIA request to USDA, seeking the number of foodborne illnesses from 2012 to 2020 attributed to the consumption of meat slaughtered and processed at a custom facility received a response from USDA that it had no record of any such illnesses. Custom operators have every incentive to process clean meat. Where a lawsuit against a big plant is just a cost of doing business, one lawsuit can easily shut down a custom house.
  3. Allowing custom meat sales would improve food security. Supply-chain breakdowns and labor shortages have made the food supply more vulnerable. Consolidation of the U.S. slaughter industry is putting our meat supply at risk. According to USDA, just 12 plants accounted for 49% of the cattle slaughtered in 2022, and 14 plants accounted for 59% of the hogs slaughtered; three plants accounted for 54% of the calves slaughtered that year. Allowing the sale of custom meat would improve food security by increasing the local supply of quality meat, food that for most of us is critical for a healthy diet.
  4. Custom meat sales would not be competition to the conventional meat industry; the meatpacker and small farms have mostly different markets. One sells mainly into the export market and big supermarket chains; the other sells into local communities, direct to consumers and small mom-and-pop stores.
  5. Allowing the sale of custom meat would keep more of the food dollar in the state and community. The big food corporations send much of the money they earn out of the state; more of the money that local farmers, ranchers, and customhouse operators earn would circulate within the state and community, strengthening local economies.
  6. Legalizing custom meat sales would create jobs. More custom slaughterhouse operations would start up if meat from those facilities could be sold by the cut. Many of the people who would be starting up a custom operation are not interested in operating a federally inspected slaughterhouse; expenses and red tape are much greater for the latter.
  7. Allowing the sale of custom meat would improve animal welfare; most farmers would not have to transport their animals as great a distance if they could take them to a custom house. This would result in less potential for injury. Animals overall are treated more humanely in custom facilities than in USDA facilities, in many of which thousands of animals are slaughtered and processed per day.
  8. Allowing the sale of custom meat would benefit the environment by reducing the carbon footprint in the transport of animals to slaughterhouses. The majority of farmers live closer to a custom slaughterhouse than to an inspected facility.

Background

Current law provides that the sale of meat is legal only if the animal is slaughtered and processed at a facility under state or federal inspection; “inspection” in this context means that an inspector is present when slaughtering or processing takes place. This requirement went into effect due to Congress passing the Wholesome Meat Act of 1967, disastrous legislation that has been largely responsible for the formation of oligopolies in the beef and pork industries. Custom slaughter and processing facilities do not require that an inspector be present, but only the owners of the animals are allowed to receive the meat slaughtered and processed at custom houses. The sale of custom meat is illegal. The pilot program becoming permanent law would lift the federal ban on the sale of custom meat. Custom facilities would still be subject to federal and state regulations, including inspection; however, inspectors would no longer have to be on site at custom facilities during slaughtering and processing of animals for meat sales to be legal in intrastate commerce.

Find Your Representative and Senators:

Look up who represents you or call the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121.

List of Representatives

List of Senators

Related Solari Reports:

Special Solari Report: Food Series: Winning the War on Meat – The PRIME Act with Thomas Massie

Solari Food Series: Time for PRIME with Congressman Thomas Massie

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