Small-scale livestock producers in the United States face significant challenges in getting their meat to market. Due to the 1967 Wholesome Meat Act, slaughterhouses can only produce meat for sale within state lines if they have a federal inspector on-site during slaughtering, or if they are in a state with its own equally rigorous standards. This has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of slaughterhouses, from almost 10,000 to just 2,758 today, according to the US Department of Agriculture.
Smaller, custom slaughterhouses, while available, are not allowed to produce meat for sale, with some exceptions. This lack of access to slaughtering facilities is a significant barrier for small-scale livestock producers, as it often means long drives and additional costs.
The Processing Revival and Intrastate Meat Exemption Act, or PRIME Act, aims to address this issue by authorizing states to permit the sale of custom-slaughtered meat to in-state households, restaurants, and grocers. The bill would make it more affordable for consumers to buy locally raised, sustainable meat from farmers they know and trust while helping small-scale producers compete with larger corporations.
However, the PRIME Act faces opposition from the meat industry, with concerns over food safety being a primary issue. The National Pork Producers Council and other industry groups have voiced opposition to the bill, warning of the dangers of uninspected meat being sold to consumers.
Supporters of the PRIME Act argue that the current USDA inspection system has a less than perfect safety record, and small-scale, custom slaughterhouses are not a significant threat to public safety. They point out that large-scale, centralized processing facilities are responsible for many of the recent food recalls and foodborne illness outbreaks.
The PRIME Act has been introduced twice in the House by Reps. Thomas Massie and Chellie Pingree, and in the Senate by Rand Paul and Angus King. It was most recently proposed as an amendment to the U.S. Farm Bill, but was not included in the final version passed by the House. Supporters hope the bill will have another chance at passage in the Senate.
If successful, the PRIME Act could help small-scale livestock producers by making it easier for them to access slaughtering facilities, reducing costs and travel time. Consumers would also benefit by having access to locally raised, sustainable meat from farmers they know and trust. However, concerns over food safety remain, and the bill faces opposition from industry groups who worry about the potential impact on their market share.