As the COVID-19 outbreak spread in Washington, toilet paper wasn’t the only commodity in short supply. Consumers may recall that the butcher’s block was increasingly scarce, and prices were climbing. Estimates are that meat production, particularly of beef and pork, dropped by 30 percent.
“The way that COVID impacted our meat packing and processing industry highlighted a need to reform how they are regulated at a state level,” said Warnick. “We need to be more innovative and bring this oversight into the state’s control to avoid problems in the future. If we do it right, it will mean more opportunity for smaller producers and more local options for consumers.”
Industry-watchers have been calling for a shakeup of the archaic federal regulatory environment that has unintentionally limited competition and supply of meat products. Under Warnick’s proposal, small and mid-sized meat producers would be eligible for support from a newly created Processing and Marketing Assistance Program. The bill also would require the state Department of Agriculture to work with federal counterparts to develop a cooperative agreement in operating a state meat-inspection program.
“This is somewhat new territory for local producers, but it is the right move,” Warnick said. “Delays in processing are bad for consumers and our ranchers. If we can take some of the pressure off the current system by encouraging state inspections and local support of smaller processors of meat and poultry, we are going to drastically improve the industry.”
Warnick’s proposal includes establishing a grant program administered by the Conservation Commission to provide funding for increased access to the meat and poultry processing and inspection opportunities. WSDA will also be encouraged to work with Washington State University to develop technical support programs for training in the industry and business practices.
The measure now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration after unanimous approval in the Senate.