The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is taking steps to make sure that small meat and poultry slaughter and processing plants have the chance to succeed, a top agency official said.

Paul Kiecker, administrator for the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), spoke of programs designed to help the smaller plants while speaking during The Poultry Federation’s Food Safety Conference on March 29.

Kiecker, who was appointed to lead the FSIS by then-Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, has been with the federal agency since 1988, when Ronald Reagan was president.

“Over 90% of the nearly 6500 slaughter and processing establishments that are regulated by FSIS are designated as small or very small and Secretary Vilsack has already highlighted ways in which the department intends to level the playing field for small and very small establishments,” said Kiecker.

2021 Consolidation Appropriations Act

One way the USDA aims to help smaller facilities is through the 2021 Consolidation Appropriations Act, which was signed into law on December 27, 2020..

In this act, Congress has authorized grants for improvements to meat and poultry facilities to allow for interstate shipment. The bill provides $60 million to make facility upgrades and planning grants available to facilities operating under state, Kiecker said.

These grans can assist plants with costs incurred in making improvements to carry out other planning activities to obtain federal inspection or to operate as a state facility that is compliant under respective cooperative interstate shipment programs. The maximum award through the program is $200,000.

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The program will be administered under the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS).

American Rescue Plan

The American Rescue Plan, which went into effect on March 11, also has provisions that are designed to help small and very small plants, Kiecker said.

Included in the plan is a section to include $100 million to reduce the cost of overtime fees for small and very small establishments that have to pay for FSIS inspections.

The provision, Kiecker said, is to run from 2021 through 2030.

The plan is to reduce the overtime fees by 75% for very small establishments and 30% for small establishments.

“We’re working to implement this as quickly as possible,” said Kiecker.