(The Center Square) - Lawmakers are moving to fill a COVID-19-created gap in Wyoming's meat industry with new bills aimed at the state's processing sector.
In a state that is heavily agricultural with a focus on beef, meat processing plants are few and far between.
House Bills 54 and 51 and Senate File 122 would work to change that.
Until about a year-and-a-half ago, Wyoming did not have any federally inspected slaughter facilities, according to Jim Magagna, executive vice president at Wyoming Stock Growers' Association.
Even now, the USDA-certified plants the state has are small, he said.
When the pandemic hit and large national facilities shut down, the problem was magnified as producers flocked to small, regional slaughterhouses. Additionally, consumer preference shifted to locally produced food, compounding the logjam.
Wyoming Public Media reports one of those was Wyoming Legacy Meats, where co-owner Frank Schmidt said they quickly became booked out a year in advance. Usually, the waiting list was only a few months.
"So that's what we were faced with, just a shortage of capacity, and the individual ranchers that wanted to have just an animal processed for their own use often had to schedule a processing date nine months to a year in advance," Magagna told The Center Square.
The Wyoming Meat Packing Initiative (House Bill 54) directs the Wyoming Business Council to up its game in supporting the state's agriculture industry specifically through meat processing, Wyoming Public Media reported.
House Bill 51 would create the Wyoming meat processing expansion grant program that would direct money to help expand existing facilities.
The final bill would create the Wyoming Ag Authority, which while driven by the need for beef and lamb, would make loans or grants to facilities developing value-added processing for any Wyoming agriculture products, according to Magagna.
On the national level, U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wy., has introduced a bill to allow state-inspected meat processing plants to sell across state lines.
Magagna explains state facilities are held to the exact same standards as USDA inspected ones; however, they are not allowed to sell outside the state currently.
This bill would open up more markets to Wyoming producers, Magagna said.