By Eric Galatas, Public News Service (Nebraska)
Nebraska lawmakers are considering a bill to provide some relief for meat supply chains by allowing consumers to purchase smaller ownership shares of livestock.
Aunbrea Zeleny with the Oakland Meat Processing Plant said Legislative Bill 324 would help more Nebraskans who have struggled to find meat at grocery stores during the coronavirus pandemic access food from trusted local sources.
"The people that aren't able to purchase a $700 quarter, being able to just get that piece of what they need, whether it be the roast, a couple of steaks, some hamburger," Zeleny explained. "This is going to get you to your local farmer's freezer."
LB 324 is similar to steps taken by Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Oregon and Wyoming to increase local meat-processor capacity.
Industry groups representing large-scale producers warned the measure could compromise food safety because consumers could purchase shares of animals processed at sites where U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors are not required to be present.
Johnathan Hladik, policy director at the Center for Rural Affairs said local lockers must follow both state and federal regulations for food safety, which allow processing without on-site inspectors for personal use.
He added small businesses preparing meat are seasoned professionals with a lot at stake.
"These business owners take their job very seriously, and they know their reputation is on the line," Hladik maintained. "And they are not going to let contaminated meat or unsuitable meat into the market because they know that comes back to them and they know that ends their business."
Hladik noted the measure also could boost economic growth especially in rural areas.
Zeleny suggested local lockers can play a role in breaking the current bottleneck where farmers are waiting up to two years to get animals processed.
"Funding will help us be able to build a new building, and will help us keep feeding our local community and surrounding communities," Zeleny contended.
The bill was introduced last week by Sen. Tom Brandt, Plymouth, joined by 19 co-sponsors.