USDA puts $55.2 million into expanded meat and poultry access

Six years after Rep. Thomas Massie, R-KY, first introduced the PRIME Act to exempt so-called custom slaughtering from federal inspection and allow farmers to produce food for restaurants, grocery stores, and hotels, an alternative has emerged.

It does not provide the freedom offered by the PRIME Act, but it does provide money.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced $55.2 million in competitive grant funding available through the new Meat and Poultry Inspection Readiness Grant (MPIRG) program. The new program is funded by the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021.

“We are building capacity and increasing economic opportunity for small and midsized meat and poultry processors and producers across the country.” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said.

“Through MPIRG, meat and poultry slaughter and processing facilities can cover the costs for necessary improvements to achieve a Federal Grant of Inspection under the Federal Meat Inspection Act or the Poultry Products Inspection Act, or to operate under a state’s Cooperative Interstate Shipment program.”

The PRIME Act looked most tempting about this time a year ago when the pandemic was forcing a series of temporary closures of the nation’s largest processing plants, creating bottlenecks and spreading meat shortage fears.  By May 2020,  the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported COVID-19 cases among U.S. workers in 115 meat and poultry processing facilities were reported by 19 states. Among approximately 130,000 workers at these facilities, 4,913 cases and 20 deaths were reported.

The feared meat shortage, however, never happened.

Now the USDA encourages grant applications that focus on improving meat and poultry slaughter and processing capacity and efficiency; developing new and expanding existing markets; increasing capacity and better meeting consumer and producer demand; maintaining strong inspection and food safety standards; obtaining a larger commercial presence; and increasing access to slaughter or processing facilities for smaller farms and ranches, new and beginning farmers and ranchers, socially disadvantaged producers, and veteran producers.

Eligible meat and poultry slaughter and processing facilities include commercial businesses, cooperatives, and tribal enterprises.

“This program will be a safer and more effective approach in expanding capacity and increasing opportunity for local and regional meat producers and processors,” said Brian Ronholm, director of food policy for Consumer Reports. Ronholm is a former USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety. He sees funding options for small plants as preferable to circumventing the inspection process and allowing uninspected meat and poultry products to be sold to large commercial establishments.

MPIRG’s “Planning for a Federal Grant of Inspection (PFGI)” project is for processing facilities currently in operation and working toward federal inspection. Applicants can be located anywhere in the states and territories. Whereas, MPIRG’s “Cooperative Interstate Shipment (CIS) Compliance” projects are only for processing facilities located in states with a USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service CIS program.

These states currently include Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Vermont and Wisconsin. Applicants must be working toward CIS program compliance requirements to operate a state-inspected facility or make a good faith effort toward doing so.

And time is short.

Applications must be submitted electronically through www.grants.gov by 11:59 p.m. EDT on Aug. 2, 2021. Any grant application submitted after the due date will not be considered unless the applicant provides documentation of an extenuating circumstance that prevented their timely submission of the grant application. Read more in AMS Late and Non-Responsive Application Policy (PDF, 431 KB).

AMS offers webinars for applicants to help walk them through the Request for Application. Additionally, grants management specialists are standing by to answer questions and emails during regular business hours. For more information about grant eligibility and program requirements, visit the MPIRG webpage, or send email questions to mpirg@usda.gov.

This grant announcement is part of the Build Back Better initiative, a commitment to invest more than $4 billion to strengthen the food system, support food production, improved processing, investments in distribution and aggregation, and market opportunities.

Through the Build Back Better initiative, the USDA will help to ensure the food system of the future is fair, competitive, distributed, and resilient; supports health with access to healthy, affordable food; ensures growers and workers receive a greater share of the food dollar; and advances equity as well as climate resilience and mitigation.

The Build Back Better Initiative and this announcement are aligned with the Biden Administration’s broader work on strengthening the resilience of critical supply chains as directed by Executive Order 14017 “America’s Supply Chains.”

The USDA’s efforts to strengthen the food system dovetail with the Administration’s whole of government response to address near-term supply chain challenges to the economic recovery via the Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force, of which Secretary Vilsack is a member. Through this task force the Administration is convening stakeholders to diagnose problems and surface solutions — large and small, public or private — that could help alleviate bottlenecks and supply constraints related to the economy’s reopening after the Administration’s historic vaccination and economic relief efforts.

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