Denver, CO — The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced the appointment of 10 new members of the 15-member National Advisory Committee on Meat and Poultry Inspection (NACMPI). Though USDA claims in its release on the subject that these members “represent a diverse group distinguished by their knowledge and interest in meat and poultry safety,” the newest members, along with members already serving on the committee, fail to represent niche agriculture, nor small or very small processing plants—adding yet another insult to America’s independent family farmers, ranchers and processors across the nation. What’s more: Brazilian-owned JBS, the largest meat producer in the world whose leaders have been convicted of bribing thousands of inspectors and politicians in Brazil to allow the sale of expired and rotten meat, now has a seat at USDA’s table.

“To give seats on this committee to company representatives of a foreign corporation that has been fraught with corruption and bribery charges is just wrong on many levels,” said Carrie Balkcom, executive director of American Grassfed Association (AGA), a national organization that provides certification, market support, education, research and advocacy on behalf of grassfed producers and supporters throughout the U.S. “The announcement of the appointees to the USDA advisory committee for meat and poultry is again a slap in the face of the farmers and ranchers that have proven time and time again that they are the backbone of American agriculture.”

“A government that is fair, reasonable, responsible and accountable represents all producers, processors and consumers,” said Greg Gunthorp, a Midwest independent farmer and processor. “This committee should be a diverse mixture across the whole industry.”

Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S., we have seen the industrial animal production system’s inability to pivot in the face of global crisis. Industrial-scale slaughterhouses swiftly emerged as coronavirus hot spots, infecting and killing workers and causing a ripple effect of harm to surrounding communities and cities throughout the U.S. Spikes in illness lead to the shutdown of processing plants, leaving store shelves empty, increased prices on meat and poultry, the killing, burial and/or composting of millions of animals . Meanwhile, April saw some of the industry’s highest exports of poultry to China. The current industrial-scale system is not built with the best interests of American consumers and independent farmers, ranchers and processors in mind, and the USDA’s latest committee appointment announcement further shows the agency’s willingness to ignore this reality.

Small, independent, niche producers and processors were able to quickly react to the COVID-19 crisis, seamlessly providing food to their communities throughout the month when grocery store shelves remained bare. “We are the resilient portion of the U.S. food supply and an integral portion of a food and national security program going forward,” Gunthorp, an AGA board of director member and policy committee member, wrote in a recent letter shared via email with industry and AGA members. “What happened this year in our food supply should be a wake-up call that our food supply, while very efficient and productive when clicking, is very fragile. It’s in the best interest of the country to make every effort to support the resilient portion of the food supply … the domestic small processors … not the foreign, large processors.”

This is why we need niche, small- and very small-scale producers and processors serving all USDA committees—especially NACMPI. “Local family farms and farmers stepped up to the task and, without major handouts from the government, proved that they can provide good and safe food for their neighbors and communities,” said Balkcom. “We need to have seats at this table. We need a balance of academics and practitioners at this table, and we don’t have it.”

American Grassfed Association (AGA) is a national organization that provides certification, market support, education, research, and advocacy on behalf of grassfed producers and supporters. AGA offers independent family farms and ranches use of the first and only national grassfed certification program developed by grassfed ranchers, scientists, veterinarians, and other industry experts.