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The Processing Revival and Intrastate Meat Exemption Act (PRIME)- Making Meat More Affordable?

Updated: Jul 23, 2020

By Sarah Everhart

Large black cow (Photo by Edwin Remsberg).

In July 2015, the Processing Revival and Intrastate Meat Exemption Act (PRIME) was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill would allow individual states to develop their own rules for distribution of custom-slaughtered meat within state lines.

Since 1967, when Congress passed the Wholesome Meat Act, producers have been required to use a USDA-inspection facility for processing if they wish to sell meat directly to consumers, restaurants, and grocery stores. A custom meat processing facility can be utilized only when meat is for personal, household, guest, or employee use (there are separate laws for poultry). If a consumer wants to buy meat from a local producer, they must purchase the animal prior to slaughter and pay for the processing. Purchasing what is typically a year’s worth of meat at one time along with the cost of a chest freezer is cost prohibitive for most consumers; in some instances, the animal can be sold in half- or quarter-portions instead.

The PRIME bill is co-sponsored by Representatives Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) and Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) who argue that the current law costs small producers a lot of money in the form of transport and other fees because ranchers and farmers must send their livestock to USDA-inspected processing plants that sometimes are located hundreds of miles away. Rep. Massie has 50 head of cattle for grass-fed beef production, and has said he understands the concerns of producers because he has to travel three hours to a USDA facility to have his beef processed.

At a time when many people are interested in purchasing locally raised meats, the number of available USDA processing facilities across the country is on the decline. The PRIME Act would effectively place regulatory responsibility back in the hands of individual states. This would give states the freedom to allow small farms to sell their custom-processed products directly to consumers, grocery stores, and restaurants within state lines, avoiding federal inspection requirements. This would mirror the processing system before 1967. Rep. Pingree has said that PRIME is a first step toward reviving local meat processing and rural economies by expanding the current custom processing exemption.

PRIME supporters point out that four companies now control processing of over 80% of the country’s beef, and four companies control the processing of over 60% of the country’s pork. The consolidation of slaughterhouses has led to most meat being processed at massive plants where as many as 400 cattle an hour are slaughtered. Those supporters argue that small-scale custom slaughterhouses, which handle a tiny fraction of the number of animals, can provide both greater quality control and humane treatment of the animals.

Opponents of PRIME argue that the bill would allow for the sale of meat without adherence to standard food safety regulations.

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