CA must reform the meat supply market for security and job creation

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Workers weigh and count chicken thighs for packaging at Campfire Meats in Modesto, Calif. On Thursday, February 11, 2021.

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Amid Sacramento’s annual farm-to-fork celebration, one glaring contradiction remains: this summer’s pandemic and crisis ransomware attack on JBS (the world’s largest meat processor) disrupted the four industrial processors centered in the Midwest and South. Together, they provide the vast majority of California meat.

California’s small and medium livestock and poultry producers have lost access to local processing while large producers who typically export animals to industrial factories have taken over the state’s small processors. COVID-19 has sickened thousands of factory workers, hundreds of deaths and tens of millions of lost wages resulting from the closures, especially harming rural communities.

These events have shown that the concentration of the transformation is dangerous. California must act to increase the resilience of its own meat supply chain, protect workers, and help rural communities.

A new UC Davis Food Systems Lab white paper describes how a fairer regulatory environment, targeted investments from public and private sources, and innovative collaborations could address these challenges. More importantly, it would help realize opportunities for small and medium producers, which would benefit everyone.

As we experience another year of worsening drought, forest fires are a priority. Ranchers have a key role to play in forest fire risk mitigation by grazing their animals in the hills of California.

Decades before COVID-19, California small and medium producers faced crippling challenges in organizing the slaughter, processing and sale of their livestock and poultry. City and county policies regulating waste management and land use hamper the licensing of local slaughter and processing facilities. Lack of investment in small plants stifles the chances of a wider geographic distribution of processing.

Meat remains an essential part of the American diet. In addition, meat processing plants are the main source of jobs in food manufacturing. Demand is growing, especially among chefs, for regenerative, organic, grass-fed, “cruelty-free” and local meats. Ironically, according to Carrie Balkcom of American Grass Fattening Association, about 85% of the grass-fed beef in the United States is imported from South America and Australia.

The demand growth, along with our dependence on imports, reveal significant opportunities for small and medium-sized California producers to establish viable businesses.

In California, USDA inspection is the primary route to market for livestock products. For small livestock and poultry producers and processors, this route is expensive and often out of reach. California’s regulations for factories not inspected by the USDA, known as “customs exemptions,” severely limit the channels for selling meat.

In contrast, states that have their own meat processing inspection programs have factories that are state-inspected and considered “equal” to USDA factories. The meat of these plants can be sold wholesale and retail.

California’s myriad of regulatory complexities stem primarily from food safety concerns. The irony is that the vast majority of cases of rotten meat come from federally inspected industrial processing facilities. These factories are also the ones with the highest rates of COVID infection and workplace accidents.

California needs more small-scale slaughtering and cutting and packaging facilities. They are safer for workers and distribute skilled jobs to rural communities where they are needed. In the wake of the pandemic, California has its best opportunity to expand the local meat supply through a wider geographic distribution of new factories as well as the expansion and upgrading of existing “exempt” factories. custom ”.

The Biden administration’s recent commitment to increasing fairness in the livestock and poultry markets, and the USDA’s new short-term funding for local meat processing, is a good start. Pair them with systemic solutions proposed to Congress and the California legislature and the Golden State is able to create our own meat processing inspection program “equal to” USDA inspection.

This change would open up more market opportunities for small and medium-sized producers, helping them to thrive during tough times. This would support their contribution to solving serious climate and pandemic issues and cement Sacramento’s claim to be the nation’s farm-to-fork capital.

Patrick Mulvaney is the owner and executive chef of Mulvaney’s B&L. Michael R. Dimock is Program Director of Roots of Change, a program at the Institute of Public Health.

This story was originally published September 16, 2021 6:00 a.m.

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