HB2785 Strengthens Oregon Small & Niche Meat Processing Sector

Author: Rebecca Thistlethwaite Director, Niche Meat Processor Assistance Network, Oregon State University

Publication: Fall 2021

The Niche Meat Processor Assistance Network (NMPAN), a project of OSU’s Small Farm Center, has been advising non-profits, legislators, and the Oregon Department of Agriculture over the last couple years on what they can do to strengthen the small and niche meat processing sector in Oregon. To those ends, we wrote a letter of support for HB 2785, which authorized a new grant program for Oregon’s small meat processors, and provides some financial support for OSU’s own Clark Meat Science Lab. NMPAN Director Rebecca Thistlethwaite checked in with Amy Wong of Friends of Family Farmers (FOFF), an Oregon non-profit dedicated to small farm viability, about their support of this bill and other legislative efforts to bolster the sector.

FOFF’s big win was getting their priority bill, HB2785, the grant fund to expand small scale meat processing, passed on the last day of the 2021 session. The grant fund was allotted $2 million, plus an additional $300K for OSU’s Clark Meat Science Center. While the initial ask was $10 million, this long-overdue investment should be considered a major milestone for small farmers and ranchers who have pushed for expanded processing for decades. ODA also mentioned that there is the possibility of adding additional resources to the grant fund, pending success. FoFF hopes to participate in ODA’s administration e around this grant fund and helped identify small processors that would like to participate in Oregon’s nascent State Meat Inspection Program.

Below is a Q & A that FoFF’s Policy Director did with the State Innovation Exchange (SiX), that they agreed to share, which sheds light on the legislative process surrounding HB2785.

1. 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 fund with money from the American Rescue Plan, as long as the grant fund is proving viable.

2. What role did FoFF 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. They also worked with Legislative Counsel to draft the amendments for the bill, which strengthened it considerably.

3. 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.

4. 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.

You can get involved in FOFF’s efforts by visiting their website https://friendsoffamilyfarmers.org/

To learn more about NMPAN, please see their website http://www.nichemeatprocessing.org/