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New Grants Considered for Meat Lockers, More Training for Butchers

This May 20, 2020, photo provided by Smithfield Foods shows some of the measures the company says it has taken to limit the spread of the coronavirus inside its plants. Workers inside its Sioux Falls, South Dakota, pork processing plant wear protective gear and are separated by plastic partitions as they carve up meat. (Photo courtesy Smithfield Foods via AP)

A bill that has cleared initial review in the Iowa House has the goals of expanding custom meat processing in Iowa and training more people how to properly butcher beef, pork and other meats. Republican Representative Chad Ingels, a farmer from Randalia, says he got the idea last spring when local meat lockers were jammed.

“Now we’re extended out into 2022, 2023 as far as getting livestock processing at small lockers out across the state,” Ingels says. “A lot of interest from farmers wanting to get livestock into lockers or consumers or people who wanted to buy local meat kept getting put off.” Ingels says the problem is two-fold. There aren’t enough local custom meat lockers and there aren’t enough butchers with the chops to break down carcasses to meet consumer demand.

“The skills to work in a small locker are different, I think, than working in a meat processing plant on a line where you’re making the same cut on every carcas,” Ingels says. The bill Ingels is working on calls for a task force to study whether it makes sense to expand Iowa State University’s already existing meat science program or set up an “artisanal butchery” program at a community college. Ingels and other legislators are hoping to extend state grants to new or expanding custom meat lockers. The Iowa Department of Agriculture distributed four million dollars in federal pandemic relief grants to Iowa meat lockers last year.

“But through that process they found there was at least an additional at least $3 million in need,” Ingels says, “and so we’re trying to find a way to fill some of that need and I’m sure there’s probably even more out there.” Nebraska lawmakers are considering grants for meat lockers with 25 or fewer employees. Wyoming has a law that lets ranchers butcher their own animals and deliver the meat directly to consumers who’ve purchased shares in their livestock.

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