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PRIME Act proposed to combat U.S. meat shortages

A catchy slogan from the 1980s has sadly become a reality during the COVID-19 pandemic as American consumers literally find themselves asking, “Where’s the Beef?”

The country’s food supply recently took a hit with the closure of several major meat processing plants plagued by the coronavirus. More than 4,900 workers at meat and poultry processing facilities have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, including 20 who died, according to a report released by the CDC.

In Iowa, Tyson saw its largest pork processing plant closed for days when more than 1,000 workers tested positive for COVID-19. The impact of these closures hit farmers hard as many found themselves having to euthanize livestock. It’s a tragic situation where grocers find their shelves empty while thousands of livestock rot in compost piles.

Angus King, former governor of Maine, is the lead sponsor of the Processing Revival and Intrastate Meat Exemption Act (PRIME) Act. The bill would help eliminate meat shortages by allowing individual states to permit intrastate distribution of custom-slaughtered meat such as beef, pork, goat or lamb to consumers, restaurants, hotels, boarding houses and grocery stores. The United States Department of Agriculture’s regulations make it hard for farmers to process livestock at small local processors, forcing them to do business with the processing conglomerates that have been hit hardest by the coronavirus.

“Despite the pandemic, American farmers and ranchers are still raising chickens, beef cattle and pork, but fewer plants are available to slaughter and process these animals,” King wrote in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “Farmers still have to pay for feed and other overhead costs, all while facing increasingly limited access to processing facilities, leading to farmers being placed in unimaginable situations where they have to consider depopulation as an option.”

In addition to King’s efforts, Representative Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), the sponsor of partner legislation in the House of Representatives, wrote a similar letter to House leadership. The House bill has seen tremendous momentum in the last week with more than 15 additional members singing on as cosponsors.

“I am writing to request that you consider the Processing Revival and Intrastate Meat Exemption (PRIME) Act, H.R. 2859, as you seek solutions to the Nation’s processing and supply crisis,” Pingree wrote. “This bill offers an additional avenue for farmers in their efforts to supply their communities with fresh, locally raised meats. With much of rural America already suffering from a dearth of federally inspected slaughter and processing infrastructure, it is not uncommon for small and midsized farms to travel hundreds of miles to facilities, incurring transportation and equipment costs, as well as lost on-farm labor hours.

“The PRIME Act mitigates these ongoing barriers; at the same time, it addresses the very immediate need to get animals processed and to market, clearing the pipeline without farmers suffering the further demoralizing injury of euthanizing their animals while being unable to feed their neighbors.”

The Prime Act currently has more than 50 cosponsors between the House and Senate. Its bipartisan sponsors range from the Libertarian-leaning likes of Rand Paul and Thomas Massie to Liberals like Rashida Tlaib and Earl Blumenauer.

PHOTO: Credit: Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images

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