June 01, 2023

The PRIME Act is introduced, but draws criticism from meat groups

The PRIME Act is introduced, but draws criticism from meat groups 

By: Sydney Sheffield 

United States House of Representatives Chellie Pingree (D-ME) and Thomas Massie (R-KY) reintroduced the Processing Revival and Intrastate Meat Exemption (PRIME) Act to make it easier for small farms and ranches to serve consumers. The bipartisan act would give individual states the freedom to permit intrastate distribution of custom-slaughtered meat such as beef, pork, or lamb to consumers, restaurants, hotels, boarding houses, and grocery stores.

“More and more, consumers want to know where their food is coming from, especially after the pandemic exposed break downs in our supply chains," said Pingree. "A farmer in Maine shouldn’t have to drive hours to get to a USDA-inspected processing facility when other safe options are available. The bipartisan PRIME Act will make it easier for local farms to compete with big meat companies and make locally-raised livestock processing more widely available. This bill will address the needs of communities in a way that supports them by allowing America’s family farms to do what they do best – feed their neighbors.”

Current law exempts the custom slaughter of animals from federal inspection regulations, but only if the meat is slaughtered for personal, household, guest, and employee use. This means that to sell individual cuts of locally raised meats to consumers, farmers and ranchers must first send their animals to one of a limited number of USDA-inspected slaughterhouses. The PRIME Act would expand the current custom exemption. 

Some in the meat industry do not support the PRIME Act. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) released a statement, claiming the PRIME Act is a threat to food safety. “NCBA is in favor of reducing regulatory burdens, but not at the expense of food safety,” said NCBA President Todd Wilkinson, a South Dakota cattle producer. “While the PRIME Act is well-intentioned, allowing uninspected beef to enter the retail market is dangerous to consumers.”

NCAB states it is supportive of federal and state meat inspection efforts and has previously supported legislation like The Direct Interstate Retail Exemption for Certain Transaction (DIRECT) Act, which would allow state-inspected beef to be sold interstate in limited quantities, direct-to-consumer, and through e-commerce. Unlike the PRIME Act, these measures would create the necessary paper trail to trace and contain any potential food safety concerns. Learn more about the DIRECT Act in the Taking Stock DC article titled “New bill will expand opportunities for small meat processors”. 

Likewise, North American Meat Institute (NAMI) CEO Julie Anna Potts said, "American consumers rely on rigorous USDA inspection to ensure the safety and quality of their meat and poultry. Allowing the meat to enter commerce without inspection — and without alerting consumers they are buying uninspected meat — jeopardizes food safety and will undermine consumer confidence in all meat products. While this bill may be well-intentioned, it poses especially unnecessary risks given the many resources available to help new and small facilities gain inspection from FSIS."

Read the PRIME Act here