The PRIME Act: Giving the Power Back to the People, At Least When It Comes to Meat

[article repost: ]

By Christine on January 25, 2016 in Local Economy

There aren’t enough federally regulated slaughterhouses anymore. For many farmers, the closest facility with an inspector onsite is a couple hours away, even if they’re only planning to sell the meat at a farmers market. This costs more for the farmer, which raises prices for the consumer, and goes against the idea of local food.

What if, instead of hauling their livestock to a USDA certified facility, a farmer could just take the animals to the local custom slaughterhouse, like she would if she were consuming the meat herself, and like she can when she sells shares of the animal? Is this any less safe for the end consumer?

The PRIME Act allows you to customize your order [image source: edublogs-com]
House Bill 3187, the Processing Revival and Intrastate Meat Exemption (PRIME) Act, aims to answer these questions, with a rousing no: it’s not any different, or any less safe. Currently in the House Agriculture subcommittee on Livestock and Foreign Agriculture, the bill would allow intra-state distribution of custom-slaughtered meat to individual consumers and to restaurants, hotels, boarding houses, and grocery stores that directly serve consumers. (In USDA terms, “meat” refers to four-legged livestock, not poultry, which is an entirely different conversation.)

Introduced by U.S. Representatives Thomas Massie (R-KY) and Chellie Pingree (D-ME) in July, the bill has gained 19 bipartisan cosponsors from 12 states, including Coffman (R-Boulder) and Polis (D-Aurora) from Colorado. It is supported by Joel Salatin as well as the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund, and would be a boon to the local food movement.

So what is a custom slaughterhouse, anyway? Custom means that there isn’t a federal inspector present during the slaughter, there isn’t the same red tape and paperwork, and there aren’t silly nit picky details necessary in the facility, such as a private bathroom and office exclusively for the inspector (yes, those are actually required at USDA inspected facilities). Custom facilities are inspected for general cleanliness and procedures and are granted licenses just like their “under inspection” counterparts; the main difference is that a physical government agent is not visually looking at every animal slaughtered and processed. Custom slaughterhouses have lower overhead costs, which transfers to lower costs for the farmer and lower prices for the consumer.

Local Meat, Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food [image source: thesecondlunch-com]
Under current regulations, only owners of an animal can have it slaughtered at a custom facility, and the meat cannot be sold. All of the meat Ben and I eat comes to us in this fashion (picture above). We buy live animals from local farmers, have the animal slaughtered in a custom slaughter house, and enjoy a fantastic, local product all year long – a product we cannot produce on our urban farm. But, this option is quite expensive for a once or twice a year purchase (we save all year for these purchases), and the upfront amount can be cost prohibitive for many families.

A less expensive option is for farmers to sell shares of no less than a quarter of an animal prior to slaughter, and still have that animal slaughtered in a custom facility and then distributed to those four consumers who had shares. This is a legal work-around to the issue of USDA versus custom slaughterhouses that has been safely in affect for a number of years, but the reach is limited. Again, most consumers can’t afford even a quarter share of meat at one time. So if this method is safe, then why isn’t it also safe to have this same meat sold in grocery stores, farmers markets, and restaurants where consumers could buy single packages at a time?

Joel Salatin, food freedom advocate and owner of Polyface Farm said of the bill, “This is directly freeing for both farmers and non-farmers—it emancipates meat from the stranglehold of paranoid consumer advocacy groups, tyrannical bureaucrats, and corporate protectionism.”

The pros are obvious: more freedom for consumers, reduced costs, and increased accessibility of local food to more people. The bill grants freedom to consumers and producers alike, but allows states to implement on their level. If a consumer didn’t want to eat non-inspected meat, then he could still purchase USDA meat.

Opponents will say that we will see an increase of food-born illnesses if we roll back requirements on inspection during slaughter. But as far as I’m concerned, if I can trust the person slaughtering my animal to do it so that it’s safe for me and my family to consume, shouldn’t it be safe enough for everyone? Shouldn’t everyone have access to safe, local meat if that’s what they want for their family? Supporters of the PRIME act think so, and I tend to agree. Honestly, I think USDA slaughterhouses are a racket, and Big-Ag stands to lose if custom slaughtered meat can be sold directly to the public. Keep an eye on this issue – I’m predicting some oh-so predictable push-back from the big packing plants here in the States.

24 thoughts on “The PRIME Act: Giving the Power Back to the People, At Least When It Comes to Meat

  1. I agree. We buy our meat from a custom meat shop. I’ve been in there and it’s super clean and the meat is better plus if people get sick from a custom shop no one will buy from there. After all they do have to compete with conglomo meats

    Liked by 1 person

  2. peacelovepointers

    We were going to take our rabbits to a slaughterhouse or whatever you call it, but couldn’t find one that would do rabbits. I guess no one eats rabbit here? But we sure do. We did it ourselves, and it wasn’t hard, we just had a lot of them, which is why we wanted to take them somewhere and have them done.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. disputesofan80skid

    Couldn’t agree more. I was just writing about how regulation and taxation is destroying our economy. Our once small business econ is now destroyed by big box corps and mom and pop shops are the ones that close up shop. The typical Sole Proprietorship has to jump though hoops to sell in any market. Especially food goods. Shopping local means shopping Quality.Big box Stores with big red and blue letters are the downfall local businesses.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In many states in the USA, you cannot do this. You have to invest enormous amounts of money to butcher livestock. Also, you have to have a USDA inspector harass you continually if you wish to sell a chicken to a neighbor… This is so very wrong. We really need this legislation. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hello there. Thank you for the blog it is very interesting. I can see why the USDA do what they do because…. well with honest people like farmers and your readers there will never be a problem. Problem comes in when 0000.1% get into the mix. Someone will be selling horse meat out of some dirty shed etc. Lets be honest it wont kill you but I don’t think people can handle that. Not to mention the cruelty to animals aspect. Its so sad when so many people have to suffer because of a few. Do you guys have mobile slaughter facilities.(Guys you can phone and they come to your farm and slaughter)
    Do you have the same problem as we do with non pasteurized milk?
    Now that’s beyond silly. That’s a money making racket. Great post, Thank you. Dan

    Liked by 2 people

    1. We can home slaughter and sell via a C.S.A. to a certain dollar amount. This is a rarity though. I have lived in many states that do not allow it. Every time they do a food recall, I shake my head sadly. *Spoiler Alert* I’m going to change many people’s perception of grocery store chicken here… 10%+ of the weight of the grocery store chicken is water laced with chemicals, salt and FECAL MATTER! — Yes, poo…. Why, mechanical evisceration…. These USDA certified and inspected slaughter plants are not only inhumane, they are dirty, a super-bacteria’s dream and not the way we want to go. We are supposed to know our farmer, or to raise/grow our own food. If we had a local food system, we wouldn’t have horse meat, super bacteria, food recalls or USDA officials dressed in swat gear breaking down our doors. I’m sure I come off as dramatic, but really — it happens all the time to us farmers… and us consumers. This craziness needs to stop. I’m stepping off my soapbox now… 😉 Thanks Dan! Great questions!!!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you for your reply. I appreciate your honest response.
        I agree with you with regards to the Chicken story as I did a bit of behind the scene work in a chicken processing plant. It gets worse than that. I can see that you don’t want to rant but if you are fortunate to know better it is a obligation to a at least share what you know.
        The drive to feed a exploding population as well as greet forces people into inhumane practice as well as inferior product. I also could go on and on about the need for better food quality but I choose my moments. Thank you again for taking the time to reply as well as follow my little blog. Regards Dan

        Liked by 1 person

      2. For sure Dan… For sure… I do try to choose the venue. But even then, Man, I am telling you. I was threatened multiple times with an $11,000 fine from the USDA because I said the word “organic” in a speech– even though my use of the word was that I wasn’t certified organic. It is crazy the way the government has entered into our lives and is attempting to control it. Take GMO labeling for instance. I support the premise, but cannot support the process of the labeling. I find GMOs abhorrent and against nature and God. But, I cannot give government control over another process…. They are abusive. Okay I am stopping now before I am sued.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. This argument of the USDA benefits can be applied to a multitude of political issues…I’ll refrain from getting into that though. Simply put, I don’t believe that any government program/law has the capability of eliminating the types of situations you speak of. What I mean by that is that if someone decides they are going to sell horse meat out of a dirty shed…they’re going to do it. Laws and regulations don’t stop “bad” people from doing anything so inhibiting the freedom of others in the name of stopping those bad eggs is, in my opinion, useless. Like you said, it’s all a money making racket. 🙂

      This is a very interesting topic and, while I don’t have the opportunity to participate in these type of “know your farmer” transactions, the legal right to do so, if/when given the opportunity, would be awesome! Thanks for sparking my brain with your comment and thank you, Rachel, for this article. Let’s hope this bill passes!

      Liked by 2 people

  5. This is great news. Here in New Plymouth, home killed meat is illegal and the nearest slaughterhouse is 5 hours a way. In other words, people who want fresh organic meat either after to travel for an hour to buy it at the farm gate or buy it on the black market like illicit drugs.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. The bottom line here is that unless this involves interstate commerce, the federal government shouldn’t be involved in this at all. Let the individual states or localities determine how these transactions are regulated (or not regulated).Most of the big outbreaks of diseases I have seen lately were at the big processing plants which benefit from ever increasing regulation that smaller processors can afford to comply with.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Agreed. USDA is too involved and the regulations are set up to support large processors with mechanical evisceration which provides and entrance for super-bacteria and other nasties to hole-up. Definitely dangerous for all involved.

      Liked by 2 people

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