Wednesday, April 14, 2021

House bid to boost access to locally-sourced meat

(Radio Iowa) - A plan emerging from the Iowa House would provide $750,000 in grants to help small meat lockers with fewer than 50 employees expand. In addition to the money, a bill that's passed the House would set up a task force to study creation of an artisanal butchery program at a community college or Iowa State University. Representative Phil Thompson of Jefferson says the pandemic highlighted the need for small-scale, local meat processing.

"Many of us remember walking into our grocery stores, only to find empty meat cases," Thompson says. "...We saw outbreaks and closures of some of our larger meatpacking plants and a supply chain that struggled to keep up with demand."

The proposed state grants could be used to buy more space or equipment, like refrigerators and freezers, for meat lockers. The money is included in a separate bill for the Iowa Economic Development Authority -- the state agency that would hand out the grants. Representative Chris Hall of Sioux City says there's a definite need, since many Iowa meat lockers aren't taking orders until 2022 or 2023.

"Past that, I think that it speaks to a greater interest in our state and many other places the where people are looking to find a connection to local agriculture," Hall says, "and to know where their food comes from."

Representative Chad Ingels, a farmer from Randalia, is the bill's sponsor.

"It came from a lot of discussions with farmers that wanted more opportunities to sell directly to consumers and consumers that wanted more opportunities to buy directly from farmers," Ingels says. "These conversations were happening before 2020. Last year just kind of brought it all to a head."

Nebraska's legislature is considering a different route to expanding consumer access to local protein. Nebraska's bill would let consumers buy shares in live animals, the livestock would be slaughtered and processed by a custom butcher and the meat would not be subject to federal inspection.

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