DENVER–Two bills were recently presented to the Colorado General Assembly to help farmers and ranchers weather the dismal markets for their animal products caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the government’s response. The two bills have since merged into one, which has been moved forward in the Senate.
Reduced demand from severely restricted restaurants and slaughtering plant shutdowns have caused prices offered to livestock growers to plummet, and many farmers and ranchers are facing economic ruin.
The bills were introduced February 16. Senate Bill 21-079 was assigned to the Senate Health & Human Services committee and House Bill 21-1062 was assigned to the House Agriculture, Livestock, & Water committee.
On February 22 HB 1062 was killed, but it was then combined with the Senate “Deregulate Meat Sales Direct To Consumers” bill sponsored by Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling and Rep. Rod Pelton, R-Cheyenne Wells.
The combined bill, short-titled the “Ranch to Plate Act,” would allow farmers and ranchers to sell whole animals, plus shares in livestock for future delivery, including cattle, calves, sheep, bison, goats, hogs, rabbits and fish, and packaged meat they raised, slaughtered and butchered.
Removed from the amended bill was poultry, which includes all domesticated birds, including chickens, geese, ducks and turkeys.
A provision in the bill says that the sale of rabbit or fish meat must be “derived from an animal raised by the person” and slaughtered by the person. This is to prevent the selling of wild game and fish caught by the person, which is illegal under Colorado’s game and fish laws.
The bill exempts sales by a producer direct to the end user from the licensing and health department inspection requirements for commercial sale of meat products. It requires that the seller must notify buyers that the meat is “not subject to state regulation or inspection by a public health agency,” and that the buyer is prohibited from reselling the meat. The bill also provides legal immunity against civil actions for damages cause by the meat being “inadequately cooked or improperly prepared for consumption.”
Commercial processing of an animal or animal share is permitted, and may include making “value added meat products such as sausage or jerky.”
State brand inspectors would only be required to inspect livestock, which includes cattle and sheep, once, immediately before being slaughtered.
At the time, Schroder was facing hard times because, due to COVID19 shutdowns, the “Big Four” commercial cattle slaughterhouses and the feedlots ranchers must use to fatten-up cattle before slaughter weren’t accepting livestock from many independent producers due to lack of space and demand.
The problem is that farmers and ranchers can’t sell packaged meat at retail unless it’s been packaged in a USDA-inspected butchery.
Non-USDA butchers can slaughter and package meat, but only by private treaty, which is when someone buys a cow, or part of a cow, under a contract with the producer to raise, slaughter and package the meat using a state-licensed butcher.
“The system is broken. Our nation relies too much on the big corporate-owned packing houses to feed this nation,” Schroder said. “Any disruptions in these packing houses will bring turmoil to the cattle industry and our nation’s food supply.”
The bill addresses the problems that independent producers now face with inspections and the limited number of private USDA-certified slaughterhouses they must use to butcher and package meat.
Non-USDA certified slaughterhouses and butchers are very limited in their capacity and state regulations make it very difficult for producers to sell parts of one animal to more than one buyer.
Because Schroder and other producers can’t butcher their livestock themselves and package it, buyers have to purchase a lot of meat at one time, which can be prohibitively expensive for a small family.
If this bill passes, livestock producers will be able to slaughter and butcher their own animals, package the meat in any quantity and sell to an “informed end consumer.”
While Congress has power over interstate transportation and sale of meat products, by restricting sales to within Colorado legislators hope the USDA will allow the practice.
Senate Bill 21-079 is scheduled to be considered on the floor of the Senate at 9:00 am Thursday, February 25 for second reading as part of the Senate consent calendar. If passed, it will proceed to a third reading and then move to the House.
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