The federal government has promised to spend $500 million to encourage the construction of smaller meat processing plants located closer to farmers who raise chickens, pigs, and cows with the goal of diversifying an industry now largely run by a small number of large corporations.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the program in Council Bluffs, Iowa, in addition to another $150 million to be used for existing processing facilities with unexpected costs, such as helping facilities that employ less than 500 pay for federal inspection fees incurred during the pandemic and assisting small and medium-size processing plants pay for upgrades. Vilsack said it is his hope to have projects in the works by early next year.
“This is a once in a generation opportunity to transform the food system so it is more resilient to shocks, delivers greater value to growers and workers, and offers consumers an affordable selection of healthy food produced and sourced locally and regionally by farmers and processors from diverse backgrounds,” he said.
|Pandemic-Driven Changes in Food and Beverage Plant Design|
Last year, the coronavirus pandemic shut down significant portions of the nation’s meat processing capacity when the virus spread quickly among workers at processing plants.
The production bottleneck forced some pig farmers to euthanize animals when they couldn’t find facilities to process them. It prompted a discussion about the dangers of a highly consolidated meat production industry in which processing takes place in a few large-scale plants owned by a handful of the largest meat producing corporations.
Vilsack said COVID-19 exposed a food system “that was rigid, consolidated, and fragile.” He said President Joe Biden is determined to shift the balance of power back to the people by investing in building better and fairer markets for producers and consumers.