Bennet, Moran, Johnson, Craig Urge Secretary Vilsack to Prioritize Support for Small Meatpackers in American Rescue Plan Implementation

Funding in COVID-19 Relief Bill Will Help Support Small Meatprocessing Facilities to Prevent Backlogs in the Food Supply Chain

Washington, D.C.  – Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), and U.S. Representatives Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.) and Angie Craig (D-Minn.) urged U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to prioritize reducing U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA-FSIS) overtime fees for very small and small meatpackers as he works to implement the American Rescue Plan, which  designated $100 million to reduce these fees, based on Bennet’s Small Packer Overtime and Holiday Fee Relief for COVID-19 Act.

“Our legislation directs USDA-FSIS to reduce the fees charged to very small establishments by at least 75 percent and to small establishments by at least 30 percent. These changes will help build greater resilience in the nation’s food supply chain by addressing the economic disincentive currently in place for small meatpackers to work longer hours,” wrote Bennet and the lawmakers. “Further, it will help level the playing field between very small and small establishments versus large establishments capable of operating two full operating shifts and therefore able to avoid these inspection fees. Consumers will also benefit from greater access and more options for locally sourced meat products provided by small meatpackers.”

In September, Bennet cosponsored the Requiring Assistance to Meat Processors for Upgrading Plants (RAMP-UP) Act, which was included in the FY21 COVID-19 relief and omnibus package, to provide grants to meat processors to make improvements necessary to expand their markets. In May, Bennet introduced the Small Packer Overtime and Holiday Fee Relief for COVID-19 Act to support small meat processors that are operating longer hours during the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic to keep our supply chain moving. That same month, he urged the administration to ensure the safety of workers in meat processing facilities. In August, Bennet called on the USDA and Department of Labor Inspector Generals to look into federal actions that may have contributed to the spread of COVID-19 in meat processing and other agricultural facilities. Early this month, the USDA Office of the Inspector General announced it was initiating an audit in response to Bennet’s request.  

The text of the letter is available HERE and below.

Dear Secretary Vilsack,

Small meatpackers play a critical role in maintaining the U.S. food supply, as well as provide important markets for livestock producers and increase consumer access and options for locally sourced food. However, even as the COVID-19 pandemic threatened to disrupt the nation’s meat supply by causing large meatpacking facilities to pause or slow operations, U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA-FSIS) overtime inspection fees discouraged small meatpackers from processing livestock more than 40 hours per week.

In the 116th Congress, we introduced legislation to address this challenge by reducing USDA-FSIS overtime and holiday inspection fees for the more 5,200 very small and small federally-inspected establishments across the country. We also successfully worked to secure funding for this purpose in COVID-19 relief legislation. As you implement the recently passed American Rescue Plan, we write to urge you to prioritize reducing USDA-FSIS overtime fees based off the provisions included in our legislation, the Small Packer Overtime and Holiday Fee Relief for COVID-19 Act of 2020.

Our legislation directs USDA-FSIS to reduce the fees charged to very small establishments by at least 75 percent and to small establishments by at least 30 percent. These changes will help build greater resilience in the nation’s food supply chain by addressing the economic disincentive currently in place for small meatpackers to work longer hours. Further, it will help level the playing field between very small and small establishments versus large establishments capable of operating two full operating shifts and therefore able to avoid these inspection fees. Consumers will also benefit from greater access and more options for locally sourced meat products provided by small meatpackers. Finally, the increased slaughter and meat processing capacity resulting from implementing the provisions of our legislation will give livestock producers more options to market their animals.

We look forward to working with you to support small meatpackers. By quickly implementing the provisions in our legislation, you can provide immediate relief to these facilities working to keep food on American’s tables. Thank you for your consideration of this request.