During the coronavirus pandemic, disruptions in just a few meat and poultry facilities can create ripple effects throughout the entire supply chain. This has led to more support from Congress to help in the shift toward a more diversified and resilient processing model. A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced the Requiring Assistance to Meat Processors for Upgrading Plants (RAMP-UP) Act, which provides federal incentives to improve meat processing capacity.
House Agriculture Committee chairman Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) and former chairman Frank Lucas (R., Okla.) joined Reps. Sanford Bishop (D., Ga.), Jeff Fortenberry (R., Neb.), Chellie Pingree (D., Maine), G.T. Thompson (R., Pa.), Jim Costa (D., Cal.), David Rouzer (R., N.C.), Angie Craig (D., Minn.) and Robert Aderholt (R., Ala.) in introducing the bill, which would establish a program to make facility upgrade and planning grants to existing meat and poultry processors to help them move to federal inspection and be able to sell their products across state lines. The legislation will also require the U.S. Department of Agriculture to work with states and report on ways to improve the existing Cooperative Interstate Shipment program.
Peterson said, “We have seen the importance of having meat and poultry processors of all sizes in Minnesota and across the country over the past few months. The RAMP-UP Act will provide grants to help these rural small businesses meet that demand, wherever their customers live.”
The RAMP-UP Act authorizes federal grants up to $100,000 for existing meat processors to become federally inspected. Currently, state inspected and custom exempt processors cannot sell meat in interstate commerce, and the process to become compliant with, and inspected by, USDA's Food Safety & Inspection Service is expensive and daunting. If enacted, the RAMP-UP Act would ease this burden on processors and benefit producers by opening new markets for the meat they produce.
“Right now, America’s meat producers and processors are facing unprecedented market challenges. At a time when producers are experiencing increased demand for high-quality meat, meat processors across the United States are racing to increase their capacity to meet the demands of consumers and producers,” Lucas said. “The RAMP-UP Act gives processors the tools to become federally inspected facilities, which widens their customer base while maintaining strong inspection standards.”
Pingree added, “The RAMP-UP Act would help defray the costs of attaining federal inspection for meat and poultry processing facilities, which will give local producers more options to get food to their customers.”
“COVID-19 has shed light on the incredible importance of a strong food supply chain,” Thompson noted. “The RAMP-UP Act will ease the strain on our meat and poultry industry by cutting red tape for processors and get food on the tables of every American family more quickly.”
“This legislation reduces the burdens associated with attaining federal inspection without jeopardizing food safety standards,” Bishop said. “This will assist smaller processing facilities in obtaining a larger commercial presence while helping meet consumer demand, which has been recently impacted by COVID-19.”
Rouzer added, “The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the need to strengthen our food supply chains to prevent disruptions in moving product to the marketplace. This bill would help small processors increase their capacity and, thereby, provide more options for livestock producers to get their product to market.”
“Disruptions to meat processing this spring showed that our current system needs greater flexibility,” Aderholt said. “I am an original co-sponsor of this legislation because increased competition and capacity in the meat processing sector is good for farmers and the American consumer. The RAMP-UP Act will help address the current backlog of livestock and build a stronger industry for the future.”
The RAMP-UP Act has the added support of a broad range of livestock, farm and agricultural associations.
“The livestock and processing sectors faced severe impacts amidst the COVID-19 outbreak. The RAMP-UP Act addresses some of the most urgent needs, and I am grateful that it reflects the feedback I heard from state agricultural leaders across the country. Now is the time to act swiftly on the evolution of the processing industry,” said Oklahoma agriculture secretary Blayne Arthur, chair of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture’s Animal Agriculture Committee.
“The COVID-19 pandemic caused unprecedented disruptions to beef processing which were devastating to cattle producers,” National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn. vice president Don Schiefelbein said. "The RAMP-UP Act addresses these supply chain issues by ensuring cattle ranchers and farmers have robust access to new markets, regardless of where their livestock is processed. We’re grateful to chairman Peterson and Rep. Lucas for their leadership and attention to this critical issue.”
“Over the past several decades, we have come to rely on fewer and larger facilities to process all of our meat,” National Farmers Union president Rob Larew said. “This system, though efficient, is particularly vulnerable to disruptions -- a fact that has become impossible to ignore as coronavirus outbreaks at just a handful of plants have backed up the entire supply chain. Small and medium-sized plants can ensure greater resilience and food security in times of crisis as well as flexibility in marketing for farmers and ranchers. By helping meat processing plants cover the often prohibitive cost of federal inspections, the RAMP-UP Act will bolster a strong and reliable meat supply chain for farmers and consumers alike.”
American Farm Bureau Federation president Zippy Duvall added, “As Congress looks at ways to make our food system more resilient for farmers and ranchers and for consumers, the American Farm Bureau Federation appreciates chairman Peterson and Reps. Lucas and Fortenberry and others for introducing this bill to increase meat and poultry processing capacity. At the same time as this bill will help more processing facilities attain federal inspection status and ensure producers have a market for their poultry and livestock, it also ensures the safety and abundance of the food supply."
National Pork Producers Council president Howard A.V. Roth said, “Previous COVID-related harvest facility disruptions created a lasting bottleneck on farms where millions of hogs remain backed up. As a result, we face mounting financial losses and a severe emotional strain.”
“For America’s sheep producers, finding new markets and meeting demand for lamb is critical to our ability to thrive in a quickly changing environment,” American Sheep Industry Assn. president Benny Cox said. “Chairman Peterson and Rep. Lucas’s legislation is tremendously welcome to help break down barriers for smaller processors to compete nationwide. These grants will ensure our local establishments can meet our stringent food safety inspection system requirements and open a world of opportunity for sheep producers.”
Brian Ronholm, director of food policy at Consumer Reports, noted, "By providing assistance to help small meat and poultry establishments attain federal inspection status without sacrificing critical food safety standards, the RAMP-UP Act represents a suitable approach in expanding capacity during times of food supply disruptions.”