The PRIME Act doesn’t go far enough

May 9, 2020

The PRIME Act Doesn’t Go Far Enough

Greg Gunthorp and Mike Callicrate at Gunthorp Farms

We are not opposed to the Prime Act per se.

We do not believe however that it should be our big ask regarding inspection because of the COVID pandemic.

Economics and access to labor are the biggest challenges facing our country’s small packing plants. They have 6-10 times more labor in a pound of product than the 300 to 400 head per hour cattle plants, 1000 head per hour hog plants, and 170 birds per minute chicken plants. And the marketplace does not allow them to fairly compete against the predatory and deceptive marketing practices of the big guys.

Most niche meat in the stores and distribution is from the same big guys that have destroyed this industry. So, I reiterate its not going to solve our economic struggles nor our labor issues of running little plants. And then add in that its not going to be accepted as legal in lots of jurisdictions. Look at the poultry exemptions. Those only work for in state sales to non-institutional buyers in most areas. In some states the federal exemption isn’t even allowed, or only allowed for on farm pick ups. That isn’t going to bring about the fundamental and transformational changes we want in rural America and our food supply.

The Prime Act can’t change the meat in the grocery store because non-inspected meat can’t be sold in the grocery store (liability). We need reform of inspection systems. We need sane and reasonable state meat and poultry inspection systems in each state. These need federal legends on the products. No distiction in difference in the labels except the establishment numbers. No restrictions to go across state lines. Only restriction should be less than 50 full-time employees and a separate system for export verification.

We need federal funding for constraint points in existing and new slaughter facilities as well as micro on farm processing only facilities.

We need truth in labeling. Food fraud is rampant. The various agencies need to figure out who is responsible for assuring the label isn’t deceptive or misleading. COOL must be mandatory. “Product of the USA” should be for U.S. born raised and processed only.

The PRIME Act doesn’t require inspection. In an economy in which the biggest cheater wins, small processors have NO chance of success, unless they cheat, and cheat they will. States must have inspection (better than current USDA) and product must be able to cross state lines in order for small plants to access population centers.

If we consider the PRIME Act the solution, we will miss an important opportunity to get real change.

From Food and Water Watch:

We are opposed to the PRIME Act. While we agree that USDA rules can be a burden on small plants and that big companies are good at manipulating that system to their advantage, we don’t support measures like the PRIME Act that we believe would essentially wipe out federal inspection by letting state inspected meat cross state lines. This would totally undermine federal inspection because big companies would switch to state inspection because state agencies are easier to push around.

Instead, we support measures such as Sen Booker and Rep Pocan’s Food and Agribusiness Merger Moratorium and Antitrust Review Act that would break up consolidation so there are more options for slaughter, including within the federal inspection program.

Local Veterinarian Inspection:

We could employ rural veterinarians and vet techs as meat inspectors under the Talmadge-Aiken Act. This would save USDA a lot of money and provide inspection by professionals that live in the communities where full-time, and especially less than full-time inspection is needed. There is dire need to rebuild our local/regional foods systems, especially around meat processing. Consumers would have access to better quality, locally produced meat. Animals would avoid the stress of long distance travel to big slaughter houses. The economic benefits of more of the food dollar remaining in farming and ranching communities would be substantial.

Many veterinary clinics have too much work for one vet, but not enough for two. Inspection duties could mean better job opportunities for veterinarians and many more jobs for packing plant and related industry workers.

The vet schools (CSU) might like the idea of adding a potentially valuable meat inspection credit as part of the vet school curriculum.

USDA hasn’t liked the idea due to the deeply embedded mission to put small plants out of business in favor of their bosses, the big meat packers.

I would estimate that USDA, under the current onerous and ineffective rules of HACCP and confrontational inspectors, increases the small plants costs by 30% or more.

I currently have inspectors that travel over 300 miles one-way to provide inspection in St. Francis. My inspector from a couple of weeks ago traveled in from a COVID-19 infected area. This is a unnecessary expense to USDA, abusive to inspection staff, and a biosecurity risk to our workers and our community.

For a summary of what should be done now: