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Regulatory changes sought for small meat processors

House Republicans seek regulatory reform to reduce barriers posed to smaller meat processing facilities.

Republicans on the House judiciary antitrust subcommittee are calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to revisit regulations that create barriers for small meat processors. In a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, the members said the “high cost of complying with meat processing laws has made it hard for smaller processors to compete and has led to significant consolidation in the industry.”

In a letter, Reps. Kelly Armstrong (R., N.D.), Jim Jordan (R., Ohio), Jim Sensenbrenner (R., Wis.), Ken Buck (R., Colo.), Matt Gaetz (R., Fla.) and Greg Steube (R., Fla.) stated that reducing regulatory burdens will increase competition and strengthen a crucial industry at an important time.

Processors undergo either federal or state inspection for compliance with relevant standards. Generally, only meat from federally inspected processors can be sold across state lines. In these processing plants, inspectors from USDA’s Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS) examine each animal. Inspectors also monitor operations, check sanitary conditions, examine ingredient levels and packaging, review records, verify food safety plans and conduct statistical sampling and testing of products for pathogens and residues.

“Although over half the states operate state inspection programs, those state programs must enforce requirements at least equal to relevant federal laws,” the letter stated. “This means that federal standards functionally impose costs on smaller processors preparing meat for only intrastate sales.” In addition, ranchers and livestock farmers who raise product for local consumption must still have meat processed consistent with costly requirements that apply to the largest processors.

The Trump Administration announced an executive order recently with the goal of facilitating economic recovery and removing unnecessary regulations in the post-COVI9-19 environment.

Specifically, the legislators suggested that USDA give smaller meat processors more flexibility to comply with hazard analysis and critical control point (HACCP) regulations, including during rapid production changes.

They also said USDA should consider ways to streamline its internal approval processes for meat labels and give clearer guidance to new meat processors as well as existing meat processors that are expanding their operations and products.

In general, meat processors operating under a state meat inspection program can sell meat only within their state. USDA’s Cooperative Interstate Shipment (CIS) program creates an exception. If a state participates in CIS, its eligible state-inspected meat processors can also sell products outside the state. Currently, only seven states participate in the CIS program, and the legislators said if more states participated, additional smaller meat processors would be able to compete in larger markets.

“More participants in the program by smaller meat processors would diversify and strengthen the food supply chain,” the letter stated. “USDA should consider ways to reduce regulatory burdens associated with the CIS program and should encourage more states and small processors to participate.”

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