Improving Processing Capacity

House RAMP-UP Act aims to help smaller meat, poultry plants

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., a former House Agriculture chairman, and other key House members last week introduced the Requiring Assistance to Meat Processors for Upgrading Plants (RAMP-UP) Act.

Also sponsoring the act are House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., House Ag Approps Subcommittee ranking member Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., House Agriculture Livestock and Foreign Agriculture Subcommittee Chairman Jim Costa, D-Calif., Livestock and Foreign Ag ranking member David Rouzer, R-N.C., former House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., Rep. Angie Craig, D-Minn., and Chellie Pingree, D-Maine.

The bill would “establish a program to make facility upgrade and planning grants to existing meat and poultry processors to help them move to federal Inspection and be able to sell their products across state lines,” the authors said.

“The legislation will also require USDA to work with states and report on ways to improve the existing Cooperative Interstate Shipment program.”

“We have seen the importance of having meat and poultry processors of all sizes in Minnesota and across the country over the past few months,” said Peterson. “The RAMP-UP Act will provide grants to help these rural small businesses meet that demand, wherever their customers live.”

“Right now, America’s meat producers and processors are facing unprecedented market challenges,” said Lucas.

“At a time when producers are experiencing increased demand for high-quality meat, meat processors across the United States are racing to increase their capacity to meet the demands of consumers and producers.

“The RAMP-UP Act gives processors the tools to become federally inspected facilities, which widens their customer base while maintaining strong inspection standards.”

“During the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve seen how disruptions in just a few meat and poultry facilities can create ripple effects throughout the entire supply chain. We must shift towards a more diversified and resilient processing model,” said Pingree.

“The RAMP-UP Act would help defray the costs of attaining federal inspection for meat and poultry processing facilities, which will give local producers more options to get food to their customers. I’m proud to join as an original cosponsor of this legislation that will help get local foods on our constituents’ plates.”

A broad range of livestock, farm and agricultural associations endorsed the bill.

“The livestock and processing sectors faced severe impacts amidst the COVID-19 outbreak,” said Oklahoma Agriculture Secretary Blayne Arthur, who chairs the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture’s Animal Agriculture Committee.

“The RAMP-UP Act addresses some of the most urgent needs, and I am grateful that it reflects the feedback I heard from state agricultural leaders across the country,” Arthur said. “Now is the time to act swiftly on the evolution of the processing industry.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic caused unprecedented disruptions to beef processing which were devastating to cattle producers,” aid National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Vice President Don Schiefelbein.

“The RAMP-UP Act addresses these supply chain issues by ensuring cattle ranchers and farmers have robust access to new markets regardless of where their livestock is processed.”

“Over the past several decades, we have come to rely on fewer and larger facilities to process all of our meat,” said National Farmers Union President Rob Larew.

“This system, though efficient, is particularly vulnerable to disruptions – a fact that has become impossible to ignore as coronavirus outbreaks at just a handful of plants have backed up the entire supply chain. Small and medium sized plants can ensure greater resilience and food security in times of crisis, as well as flexibility in marketing for farmers and ranchers.

“By helping meat processing plants cover the often prohibitive cost of federal inspections, the RAMP-UP Act will bolster a strong and reliable meat supply chain for farmers and consumers alike.”

American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall said that while the bill “will help more processing facilities attain federal inspection status and ensure producers have a market for their poultry and livestock, it also ensures the safety and abundance of the food supply.”

National Pork Producers Council President Howard A.V. Roth said “Previous COVID-related harvest facility disruptions created a lasting bottleneck on farms where millions of hogs remain backed-up.

“As a result, we face mounting financial losses and a severe emotional strain,” Roth said. “We thank Congressmen Peterson, Fortenberry and Lucas for taking steps to expand harvest capacity and bring much-needed relief to American hog farmers.”

American Sheep Industry Association President Benny Cox said, “For America’s sheep producers, finding new markets and meeting demand for lamb is critical to our ability to thrive in a quickly changing environment.”

“Chairman Peterson and Rep. Lucas’s legislation is tremendously welcome to help break down barriers for smaller processors to compete nationwide. These grants will ensure our local establishments can meet our stringent food safety inspection system requirements and open a world of opportunity for sheep producers.”

Brian Ronholm, a former Agriculture deputy undersecretary and acting undersecretary for food safety who is now director of food policy at Consumer Reports, said, “By providing assistance to help small meat and poultry establishments attain federal inspection status without sacrificing critical food safety standards, the RAMP-UP Act represents a suitable approach in expanding capacity during times of food supply disruptions.” F

–The Hagstrom Report