A bipartisan group of House lawmakers has introduced the Requiring Assistance to Meat Processors for Upgrading Plants (RAMP-UP) Act.

This legislation 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 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 House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., a bill sponsor. “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 Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Oklahoma, a bill sponsor and former House Ag Committee chairman. “The RAMP-UP Act gives processors the tools to become federally inspected facilities, which widens their customer base while maintaining strong inspection standards.”

What’s in the bill?

The bill amends the Agriculture Marketing Act of 1946 and allows the Agriculture Secretary to make grants to meat and poultry processing facilities. The bill provides $80 million in direct funding to remain available until spent through fiscal year 2023 and authorizes $20 million in annual funding for the same time period.

The grants:

  • Can be used to fund planning activities, facility upgrades or other improvements required to become a federally inspected establishment;
  • Can not exceed $100,000;
  • Must be repaid with 36 months if the recipient does not become a federally inspected establishment;
  • Must be matched on a dollar per dollar basis, but this requirement is waived for fiscal year 2020 and fiscal year 2021.

Who are bill sponsors?

In addition to Peterson and Lucas, bill sponsors include: Reps. Sanford Bishop, D-Georgia; Jeff Fortenberry, R-Nebraska; Chellie Pingree, D-Maine; G.T. Thompson, R-Pennsylvania; Jim Costa, D-California; David Rouzer, R-North Carolina; Angie Craig, D-Minnesota, and Robert Aderholt, R-Alabama.

What do the sponsors have to say?

“This is a localized solution that helps diversify the meatpacking industry to create a public good,” Fortenberry said.

“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,” Pingree said.

“COVID-19 has shed light on the incredible importance of a strong food supply chain,” Thompson said. “The RAMP-UP Act will ease the strain on our meat and poultry industry by cutting red tape for processors and get food on the tables of every American family more quickly.”

“This legislation reduces the burdens associated with attaining federal inspection without jeopardizing food safety standards,” Bishop said. “This will assist smaller processing facilities in obtaining a larger commercial presence while helping meet consumer demand.”

“This bill would help small processors increase their capacity and thereby provide more options for livestock producers to get their product to market,” Rouzer said. “This is a worthy bipartisan effort that will benefit agriculture and the consumer.”

“The RAMP-UP Act represents important investment in the resiliency of our food system, by helping processors of all sizes to participate in federal inspection and meet the full range of consumer demand, wherever it may be,” Costa said. “It will help to ensure grocery stores stay stocked with meat and poultry products.”

“The Ramp Up Act will help address the current backlog of livestock and build a stronger industry for the future,” Aderholt said.

“By continuing to support our local meat processors, we are safeguarding our food supply and stimulating rural economies,” Craig said.

Other supporters weigh in

The RAMP-UP Act has the added support of a broad range of livestock, farm and agricultural associations.

“The livestock and processing sectors faced severe impacts amidst the COVID-19 outbreak. The RAMP-UP Act addresses some of the most urgent needs. Now is the time to act swiftly on the evolution of the processing industry,” said Blayne Arthur, Secretary of Agriculture of Oklahoma, and Chair of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture’s Animal Agriculture Committee.

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

“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.”

“Previous COVID-related harvest facility disruptions created a lasting bottleneck on farms where millions of hogs remain backed-up,” said National Pork Producers Council President Howard A.V. Roth. “As a result, we face mounting financial losses and a severe emotional strain.”

“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,” said American Sheep Industry Association President Benny Cox. “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.”

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Source: The Farmer