WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Small and independent meat processors are at significant economic risk due to increased regulatory costs included in a preliminary draft guidance document issued by the Food Safety and Inspection Service, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation. That document spells out new and costly requirements for local meat processors under the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) Systems Validation proposal.

In a letter to the FSIS, Farm Bureau stated that many of its members who raise livestock, "rely on small and independent meat processors" to process meat they raise for their own consumption. In addition, local meat processors offer farmers and ranchers "opportunities to create specialty and value-added products marketed through niche outlets."

"(Local meat processing) facilities are most at risk from increased costs due to (new validation costs for) multiple species and multiple products, with a relatively low volume over which to spread those costs," AFBF's letter stated. "The loss of small and very small establishments would be devastating to our livestock-producing members."

AFBF also said it has received "literally hundreds of concerns" from small, independent meat processors over the last three months pointing out the damaging economic consequences of the proposed rule. Increased compliance costs ranged from $65,000 to approximately $640,000 per year for those local plants.

"It is critical that we maintain vital processing capacity in rural areas," AFBF's letter stated.

The organization strongly urged FSIS to ensure that the new validation process accommodates concerns about exorbitant new expenses. In many cases, flexibility in addressing the regulatory requirements and costs "may make the difference between a plant remaining in operation or being forced out of business," the letter cautioned.

"We encourage FSIS to continue HACCP education efforts, particularly in the areas of validation and verification," AFBF stated. "Working with the industry to promote a greater understanding of all HACCP components may well prove to be more effective to overall food safety than new testing and microbiological requirements."

SOURCE: AFBF.