Big Meat wants Congress to bail it out, even though the COVID-19 crisis has exposed how the industrial meat model—with its disease-ridden slaughterhouses and its unjust and monopolistic practices—is a total failure.
If you’d rather see Congress fund local meat processors who help build food security for your community, please ask Congress to support the Small Packer Overtime and Holiday Fee Relief for COVID-19 Act.
TAKE ACTION: Ask Congress to fund local meat processing, not Big Meat bailouts!
The Small Packer Overtime and Holiday Fee Relief COVID-19 Act would provide support to small meatpacking plants that are operating longer hours during the COVID-19 pandemic to meet growing demand for local meat.
Meat has to be inspected by employees of the U.S. Department of Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). The FSIS charges meatpacking plants a fee for overtime and holiday hours paid to food inspectors. Large corporations can absorb those extra costs when they keep plants open for longer hours—but most smaller meatpacking plants can’t, so it’s more difficult for them to extend their hours to meat a surge in demand.
The Small Packer Overtime and Holiday Fee Relief COVID-19 Act would provide funding to FSIS to reduce fees charged to small meatpacking plants when they request overtime and holiday inspection services.
Meatpacking plants with fewer than 10 employees would be required to pay 25 percent of overtime and holiday fees and FSIS would pay the remaining 75 percent. Plants with 10-500 employees would be required to pay 70 percent of overtime fees with FSIS paying the remaining 30 percent.
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), co-author of the Senate bill, explained why this legislation is so critical now:
“The COVID-19 crisis has hit the food supply chain—from producers to our essential workforce—particularly hard. In addition to prioritizing the health of workers, we should look to reduce barriers for small meatpackers who are stepping up and running overtime to keep the supply chain moving. This bill would do just that by reducing fees for small meatpacking plants, expanding options for ranchers to harvest their livestock while maintaining strong safety standards.”
According to USDA data, cattle slaughter in May decreased by approximately 31 percent compared to last year. This decrease is due to large meatpacking plants being temporarily closed or slowing processing operations due to outbreaks of COVID-19.
In the U.S., 400 large slaughterhouses with more than 500 employees produce nearly all of the nation's meat.
In the cattle industry, the 13 largest slaughterhouses produce 56 percent of the nation’s beef. A little more than 50 plants are responsible for as much as 98 percent.
In the pork industry, the portion of hogs slaughtered in plants that could process more than one million a year rose to 88 percent in 1997 from 38 percent in 1977. Now, the twelve largest hog slaughterhouses account for 57 percent of all slaughters.
It is the largest slaughterhouses that have had the most COVID-19 illnesses and deaths among their workers.
In these large slaughterhouses, most of the butchering is done via automated machines, forcing people to work shoulder-to-shoulder and making it nearly impossible to maintain social distancing.
In small slaughterhouses, the butchering is done by hand. Workers can spread out and move around without getting too close to one another.
One solution in the near- and long-term, is to increase the number—and capacity—of these small-scale meat processors.
Some butchers, who primarily served restaurants, laid off workers and reduced output when the pandemic response required shutting down table service. With government support, they could restore their capacity and provide processing options to the many farmers who gained new customers with the renaissance in home cooking.
For the meat processors who were already serving the direct-to-consumer market, backlogs at their plants could be relieved with government help to expand their capacity.
There’s never been a better time to transform how meat is produced and processed in this country. Passing the Small Packer Overtime and Holiday Fee Relief for COVID-19 Act is a good first step toward making this transformation a reality.