Legislation to support small meatpacking plants working overtime to feed America

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — After Tyson and Smithfield Foods closed their meatpacking facilities due to outbreaks of coronavirus, smaller packing plants or meat lockers extended their hours to ensure our food supply chain keeps moving.

But that comes with added costs and now Congress wants to help.

A lot of farmers and ranchers have resorted to area meat lockers to have their sheep, hogs and cattle processed.

“Anything we can do to help the packing plant process more cattle is going to help the beef industry,” President of the South Dakota Cattleman’s Association Eric Jennings said.

Even so, the meatlockers or smaller processing plants haven’t been able to keep up.

“With the slowdown from COVID-19 and the packing plants shutting down we’ve got close to a million cattle backlogged right now,” Jennings said.

A lot of them have been working overtime, but lockers have to pay high overtime rates to federal inspectors.

“Right now we sort of add insult to injury for these local lockers they are working weekends, working Saturdays and Sundays, not necessarily because they want to work, but they know people need to have their protein and producers have somewhere to take their livestock,” Congressman Dusty Johnson said

That’s why Congressman Dusty Johnson introduced a bill that would provide some relief to area meat lockers and small plants that are federally inspected that are filling the void.

“Very small lockers with less than 10 employees, the federal government would pick up about 2/3 of those overtime costs, they’d still be responsible for about a third, we want this to be a cost share,” Johnson said.

The South Dakota Cattleman’s Association supports the bill.

“If you’re sitting there with some fat cattle in the feed yard that you need to get rid of, you’re pretty happy with whoever can process them,” Jennings said.

The bill has been introduced but hasn’t been scheduled to be heard in Congress yet.

The bill would impact the meat lockers and smaller processing plants that are federally inspected, according to the South Dakota Animal Industry Board. Some of the businesses impacted include Sturgis Meats, Hillcrest Meats and Hudson Meats, said Dustin Oedekoven, state veterinarian and executive secretary of the AIB.

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