The White House’s first move of 2022 was made for the meat and poultry industry. The Biden administration released its action plan earlier this week to make the meat and poultry supply chain fairer, more competitive, and more resilient.
While the highlight of the plan is $1 billion in funding for expansion of independent processing, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack says that there are other parts that have been overshadowed.
“In this comprehensive effort, we’re also addressing the workforce element of building greater capacity,” he says. “We’ve heard from folks on the ground that it’s great you’re providing capital, but we also need people. This program the president announced earlier this week is also trying to address the people part of this by creating a fund that will allow us to partner with community colleges, unions, co-ops and other organizations that are involved in worker training to be able to train our workforce.”
He says innovation is also part of this initiative.
“Small- and mid-sized processing facilities don’t by their nature—their budgets have a lot of money that they can put into new technologies and innovative solutions,” he says. “The big folks obviously have resources to do that. We’ve also got a component of this program that addresses that issue as well.”
The American Farm Bureau has voiced its appreciation of the plan. On the other hand, the North American Meat Institute says that producers and consumers will not be benefitting from this. Vilsack says this response isn’t surprising.
“The Institute obviously represents the interests of the larger entities that currently controls so much of this market, so it’s not unusual that they would have concerns about this,” says Vilsack. “If you talk to farmers, the folks who are raising the cattle, hogs, and chickens, oftentimes they go to the sale barn or find out they’re losing money after their hard work and processors are making record profits. They’ll tell you there is a need for additional capacity.”
Vilsack adds that over the course of the next six months, programs will roll out. Over the course of the next year, there will be more construction taking place to make room for higher capacity.