Fueled by a cultural shift of buy local, the pandemic gave small meat processors a new window of business as big meatpackers had to shut down or scale back operations amid outbreaks. But small processors warn the boost in business does more harm than good if Congress and USDA don’t step up.
The increase in business is overwhelming the capacity of small plants like Shaw’s.
“Our backlog for processing was six to eight months out, and now that it has increased and we are out 24 months,” he said.
As a result, lawmakers on Capitol Hill are urging more help for small processors. A recent letter from Republicans asks the Agriculture Department to reduce regulatory burdens that ban small plants from entering the market and limit competition to major producers resulting in the current bottleneck.
While the members of the House Judiciary’s antitrust subcommittee are requesting certain regulations be revised, several Democrats and Republicans have introduced bills in the House and Senate to provide aid to small plants, something advocates hope will be included in the next coronavirus relief package.
Short term, making sure small plants have the financial support to still be able to support the farmers and ranchers that use them during the pandemic is the immediate need from USDA, said Kelly Nuckolls, policy specialist at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.
“Long term, hopefully we can think