The Time for PRIME Is Now!

Pete Kennedy, Esq.
September 15, 2023

The federal Processing Revival and Intrastate Meat Exemption (PRIME) Act has the best chance of passing into law this session. Learn why.

The most important legislation for the local food movement that has been before Congress the past eight years has been the Processing Revival and Intrastate Meat Exemption Act, known as the PRIME Act; in this current session, the bill has been introduced as House Resolution 2814 (HR 2814) [1] and Senate Bill 907 (S. 907) [2]. The PRIME Act would allow states to pass laws legalizing the sale of custom slaughtered and processed meat in intrastate commerce; the lack of slaughterhouse infrastructure throughout most of the U.S. is the biggest weakness of the local food system. Under current law, only the owners of an animal can receive the meat slaughtered and processed at a custom facility; only meat from an animal slaughtered and processed at a federal- or state-inspected facility can be sold.

The PRIME Act would amend the Wholesome Meat Act of 1967 (WMA), the legislation that established these requirements. Unless you are an oligopolist, the WMA has been a disaster. At the time the act passed into law, there were around 9,600 slaughterhouses in the U.S. [3];  the country’s population at the time was around 200 million. Today there are between 2,800 and 2,900 slaughterhouses [4] in the country and the current U.S. population is around 335 million. Four companies now control over 80% of beef processing in the U.S., and four companies control over 60% of pork processing [5].

There has never been a better chance to pass this bill than now. Congress is currently in the process of writing up the 2023 Farm Bill. The PRIME Act has a legitimate chance to be included in the Farm Bill; it has much less chance to pass as a standalone. Giving the bill momentum was a congressional hearing in June that the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Administrative State, Regulatory Reform and Antitrust held titled, “Where’s the Beef? Regulatory Barriers to Entry and Competition in Meat Processing” [6]; the PRIME Act was a focus of the hearing. Farmer/slaughterhouse owner Joel Salatin testified on how it could be a solution to the difficulties small farmers and ranchers have in meeting demand for local meat with the current laws in place that favor the big meatpackers.

Congressman Thomas Massie, a cattle farmer representing Kentucky’s 4th district, is the lead sponsor for HR 2814 as he has been since he first introduced the PRIME Act in 2015. Adding more urgency to the need to have the legislation included in the 2023 Farm Bill is a statement Massie made in a Washington Post interview earlier this year, indicating that he might serve only one more term [7], meaning he wouldn’t be around when the next Farm Bill would be deliberated in 2028. There is no one in Congress who would put in anywhere near the time and resources to pass the PRIME Act that Massie has; neither is there anyone who has the expertise on the matter that he does.

To say passage of the PRIME Act is badly needed is a huge understatement. Demand for locally produced meat is booming, but it is difficult for farmers and ranchers to meet that demand with the lack of access to slaughterhouses under inspection. Right now in parts of the country, farmers have to book a slaughterhouse slot as much as 1-1/2 to 2 years in advance. Moreover, farmers often have to transport their animals several hours to an inspected slaughterhouse, increasing their expenses and stressing out the animals which could affect the quality of the meat. The majority of livestock farmers live closer to a custom slaughterhouse than an inspected slaughterhouse. 

Aside from better enabling farmers to meet the demand for local meat, passage of the PRIME Act could begin the long-overdue process of decentralizing meat production in the U.S.  According to USDA data from 2022 [8], 52 federally inspected slaughterhouses account for around 93% of the cattle slaughtered in the U.S.; 60 federally inspected facilities account for nearly 98% of the hogs slaughtered in the country. This centralization along with the supply chain breakdowns and labor shortages of the past few years has made the meat supply more vulnerable as well as leading to a decline in quality. It's likely that passage of the PRIME Act would initially impact a fraction of 1% of meat production, but its revival of the community abattoir would improve food security through increased self-sufficiency at the local level.

Massie said several years ago that he knew of 1,000 shuttered slaughterhouses in the country whose owners would re-open if the PRIME Act became law; the owners did not want to run a business if an inspector was present each time they were slaughtering animals (government regulators typically inspect a custom house only once or twice a year). The owners did not believe they could generate enough revenue operating under laws prohibiting the sale of meat slaughtered and/or processed at a custom facility.

The only argument the opposition to HR 2814 has is food safety, but the data shows they don’t even have that. In response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by the Texas nonprofit Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance (FARFA), the USDA acknowledged that between 2012 and 2020 there were no cases of foodborne illness due to the consumption of custom slaughtered and processed meat [9]. By contrast, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) between 2005 and 2020, over 6,000 cases of foodborne illness were attributed to beef and pork consumption [10]; the likelihood is that all or nearly all that meat was slaughtered in big USDA facilities that process 300-400 cattle per hour. The big plants process more animals in a day than a custom house would in a year. There is better quality control in a custom facility, inspector or no inspector.

A key part of food safety is traceability–another advantage meat from a custom house has over meat from one of the big USDA facilities. A hamburger in the industrial food system could come from hundreds of cattle raised in multiple states and countries; a hamburger from a custom facility is going to be from one cow. 

Increasing the amount of locally produced meat available for consumption would not only benefit food security and food safety but also human health and the economy. With passage of the PRIME Act, there would be less money spent on, and less demand for, resources of the healthcare system—freeing up money to be spent in more productive areas of the economy. The records on foodborne illness outbreaks indicate that a higher percentage of people per serving who consume meat produced by the big plants of the conventional industry cost the healthcare system more money than the people who obtain locally produced meat from small farmers and ranchers. The likelihood is also that people who purchase locally produced meat place less demand for resources on the medical system in the treatment of chronic disease then do those who buy their meat from the industrial system.

Beyond the deterioration of quality the centralization of meat production has caused, there is another development in the conventional industry making passage of the PRIME Act imperative: the production and marketing of alternative proteins, such as cell-cultured meat and insects. Industry has spent billions in the development of alternative proteins even though there is little or no demand for them—with two of the major meatpackers, Tyson and Cargill, being investors. The question is: what will the ruling establishment do to help industry get a return on its investment? Will it involve enforcing policies that will make animal proteins less available? The best response to the ruling elites’ plans is to build out a parallel food system as independent of federal control as possible; a robust slaughterhouse infrastructure will be a centerpiece of that system. The PRIME Act will be a catalyst in making that happen–moving the system towards a day when the local abattoir will once again dot the countryside.


[1]  U.S. Congress. (2023). House Resolution 2814. [PDF]. Introduced April 25, 2023. PDF accessed at

[2]  U.S. Congress. (2023). Senate Bill 907. [PDF]. Introduced March 22, 2023. PDF accessed at

[3] USDA, Statistical Reporting Service Crop Reporting Board. (1969). Annual Livestock Slaughter, April 1969. [PDF] "Table 20 - Number of Livestock Slaughtering Establishments, March 1, 1967, 1968, 1969", p. 35. PDF accessed at

[4] USDA, National Agriculture Statistics Service. (2023). Livestock Slaughter 2022 Summary (April 2023). [PDF]. [Table - "Livestock Slaughter Plants by Type of Inspection - States and United States: January 1, 2022 and 2023" Inspected Percent of Total Commercial Slaughter by Species, Month, and Total - United States: 2022 and 2021 Total", p. 62]. PDF accessed at

[5] James, H.S., Hendrickson, M.K., and Howard, P.H. (2012, February). Networks, Power and Dependency in the Agrifood Industry. Department of Agricultural & Applied Economics Working Paper. College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources: University of Missouri. Available at (Accessed: 7 September 2023). [See  "Table 1 - Concentration ratios and dominant firms for selected agrifood sector", p. 32]

[6] Forbes Breaking News. (2023, June 13). 'Where's The Beef?': Thomas Massie Leads House Judiciary Committee Hearing On Meat Industry. [Video].

[7] Will, G.F. (2023, June 22). "Meet the implacable, off-the-grid libertarian working to energize Congress". The Washington Post.

[8] USDA, National Agriculture Statistics Service. (2023). Livestock Slaughter 2022 Summary (April 2023). [PDF]. [calculated from tables on pp. 8 and 61]. PDF accessed at

[9] USDA. (2020, June 25). [Foodborne illness from custom meat]. FOIA response, 2020-FSIS-00397-F. 

[10] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2021, May 26). Access® database for outbreaks reported from 2005 to 2020 from all transmission sources (food, water, animal contact, environmental, and person-to-person) [Data set]. Provided by Hannah Lawinger, CDC NORS Data Request Manager.

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