House members urge emphasis on small facilities as USDA weighs meatpacking investment
07/30/21 9:00 AM By Noah Wicks
A bipartisan group of 30 U.S. representatives sent a letter to the USDA today with suggestions on how the agency’s $500 million investment in expanding U.S. meat processing capacity should be focused.
The legislators — led by Reps. Angie Craig, D-Minn., Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, and Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb. — called for the USDA to ensure small and regional meat and poultry processors can access the funds, as well as provide “more generous and accessible financing options” for processors.
“We encourage USDA to make investments that will provide leverage for producers at all levels of the supply chain, including in industries that are less vertically integrated, like the cattle industry, and industries that are more vertically integrated, like the poultry and pork industries,” the letter states.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the USDA would be putting $500 million into expanding the nation’s meat processing capacity at a press conference on July 9. The USDA will be undertaking a public input process to determine how the money will be allocated.
The legislators want USDA to implement a small plant infrastructure grant program, which they believe would help small plants afford state or federal inspection costs and slaughter and processing capacity.
In addition, they are pushing for USDA to offer higher-cap, scalable financing options for plants, which they believe will quickly address processing capacity shortages and help plants become more competitive.
Finally, the group wants the agency to expand outreach to stakeholders on existing programs that facilitate local food processing. They would like to see funds given to land-grant universities, community colleges or technical schools for training meat and poultry processors.
Lorentz Meats, a Minnesota-based USDA-inspected processor, said it is hoping the program will be a boost to smaller facilities trying to create or expand production.
“The pandemic revealed the country’s highly consolidated meat processing sector creates vulnerabilities to supply, Mike Lorentz, the company’s CEO, said in a release. “We believe strengthening regional small players that can distribute into conventional supply chains will help create a more resilient food system. We would appreciate any support USDA could provide plants like ours.”
In addition to the 30 lawmakers, the effort is backed by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the National Farmers Union, and the American Farm Bureau Federation.
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