SiX recently interviewed Amy Wong, Policy Director with Friends of Family Farmers (FoFF) about their work on the 2021 Oregon bill HB 2785 – Local Meat Inspection and Grant Program that was recently enacted. Amy sits on the SiX Agriculture & Food Systems Advisory Board and FoFF is a partner of the SiX Agriculture & Food Systems Program.
For more information about the work of Friends of Family Farmers visit: friendsoffamilyfarmers.org
If you are a legislator interested in working on local meat processing in your state reach out to us at [email protected].org
Why was this bill needed and how will this bill help Oregon small farmers?
The consolidation of meat processing in the U.S. has led to a dearth of regional processing capacity, as well as issues with corporate control of the food supply. Oregon’s already acute lack of meat processing capacity was severely strained during COVID-19, as industrial meat processing facilities were closed by virus outbreaks and out-of-state producers sent meat to the Pacific Northwest for processing, taking away precious processing slots for Oregon farmers and ranchers. Increased demand for local meat also further taxed an already burdened system, with even seasoned producers lamenting the loss of processing slots. The Legislature recognized the importance of this issue when it passed HB 4206 in 2019, authorizing ODA to begin the process of establishing a State Meat Inspection Program. However, to be truly successful, the State Meat Inspection Program needed a concurrent grant fund to help expand processing capacity, especially in rural Oregon.
HB 2785 established a $2 million grant program to fund expansion, upgrades, and technical and other necessities, such as equipment, as laid out in the programs in other states. The bill includes an additional $300K allocation for OSU’s Clark Meat Science Center. The legislature has also expressed a willingness to add funds to the grant funds with money from the American Rescue Plan, as long as the grant fund is proving viable.
What role did Friends of Family Farmers play in supporting legislators to connect with farmers on this bill?
FoFF strategically enlisted the help of a supportive farmer in the district of a key legislator to ensure that there was active constituent participation, which was critical to getting the bill across the finish line. FoFF also leaned heavily on the farmers and ranchers in the organization’s Oregon Pasture Network Program to submit testimony and speak with legislators. FoFF also offered legislators access to farmers, ranchers, and processors in the event that they needed additional input. We also worked with Legislative Counsel to draft the amendments for the bill, which strengthened it considerably.
If you had advice to legislators in other states working on a similar bill, what would it be?
Seize the opportunity to work on a truly bipartisan issue that largely will bring about rural economic development, regional food security, and better health outcomes. There are so many partisan fights in state legislatures. Local meat processing is a topic that should be easy to get buy-in on both sides of the aisle, as long as environmentally-minded legislators understand the benefits.
Was there any opposition to this bill? If so, how did FoFF help legislators to navigate tensions in order to get the bill passed?
Some “environmental” and/or vegetarian/vegan legislators were opposed to the bill because they see meat consumption as a driver of climate change. However, small-scale regional meat production can actually help fight climate change through beneficial pasture management and carbon sequestration in soil. It was necessary to do repeated outreach to these legislators to get them to understand that factory farms are the true problem and building an alternative food system, including small scale meat processing, is a way to create regional food security that is both resilient and environmentally-sound.