Provide Meat Processing Capacity to Montana Food Banks, Tester Demands as Pandemic Impacts Food Supply

Montana food banks have seen as much as 300 percent increase in demand while 25 percent of meat processing is offline

As the coronavirus impacts meat processing plants across the country, U.S. Senator Jon Tester today continued his push to support Montana’s independent ranchers and small and medium sized feeders and stabilize the food supply chain by demanding the United States Department of Agriculture allow Custom Exempt processing facilities to help producers donate animals to Montana food banks.

Tester’s letter backs a similar call made by Montana Governor Steve Bullock earlier this week.

“I ask that you grant an exemption to the Montana Department of Livestock to allow select custom exempt processors to provide slaughter capacity to food banks,” wrote Tester. “The proposal would allow a food bank that has identified a live animal source, but is unable to find a willing or able inspected facility, to find a Custom Exempt Processor to process the animal. The Montana Department of Livestock has identified a rigorous set of criteria to ensure food safety and humane slaughter, and would not allow such exempted meat products to enter general commerce. This proposal aims to close the gap between food banks and producers, eliminate food waste, and ensure that we can keep food on the table for Montana families.”

As of this week, COVID-19 has spread through U.S. meatpacking plants, sickening more than 5,000 people and killing 20. To date, 22 plants have closed, with varying dates for reopening. Experts estimate that 25 percent of U.S. processing capacity is currently offline, threatening the livelihood of ranchers across the country as well as America’s food security.

Montana producers have been hit hard by the closure of meatpacking plants, leaving them with too much product on hand and facing the prospect of culling their herds because processing facilities are unable to accept animals. Meanwhile, Montana food banks are seeing as much as a 300 percent increase in demand, just as meat prices are anticipated to increase due to a lack of supply caused by the closed facilities.

Tester has been sounding the alarm about consolidation in the meat processing industry, and its harmful effects on ranchers even before the pandemic. Recently, he demanded that Attorney General William Barr, in coordination with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, open an investigation into reports of price fixing in the cattle market in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Just last week, he secured an expansion of the Small Business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Relief Loan and Emergency Economic Injury Grant Programs to include ag businesses, farms, and ranches with fewer than 500 employees. He also recently sent a letter to Secretary Perdue urging the Trump Administration to grant farmers more flexibility in their Farm Service Agency loans in order to ensure the continuity of the country’s food supply and support rural areas during the coronavirus pandemic by providing critical relief to producers.

Read Tester’s full letter HERE.

Visit for a list of resources for Montanans during the COVID-19 outbreak.