Meat processing plant beef

Carcasses of beef hang at a meat processing plant.

(The Center Square) – Maine is getting federal funds to expand slaughterhouses and meat processing amid concerns that there aren't enough facilities in the state to feed the market.

The $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will be distributed equally to five businesses to upgrade or expand their operations to comply with federal inspection requirements and meet health and safety standards for sales to distributors in other states.

Each company will receive about $200,000 through the USDA’s Meat and Poultry Inspection Readiness Grant Program, as part of $21.9 million in disbursements to 37 states.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the federal funding will "help meat and poultry processors make necessary facility improvements, expand their businesses, and strengthen the nation’s food supply chain."

One of the Maine funding recipients is Fork Food Lab – a shared-use kitchen incubator in Portland – which will use the funding to expand into a 42,000-square-foot facility that meets the requirements for a Federal Grant of Inspection.

The federal certification allows meat and poultry processors to ship products across state lines, develop new markets, increase capacity, and meet demand along the supply chain.

Another $200,000 grant will go to Hatch's Custom Meat Cutting, LLC, which will use the federal funds to expand the company's processing and packaging operations.

"This expansion will allow for segregation between the cutting and packaging areas, putting in place further safeguards to promote food safety and quality assurance, and decreasing the risk of cross contamination," the USDA said.

The additional funding comes in response to nationwide demand for slaughtering and processing, which USDA officials say vastly outstrips capacity in many parts of the country.

To date, USDA has distributed nearly $55 million through the program, according to the federal agency.

A January report by the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry found that the state is vulnerable to meat shortages like ones that occurred in 2020 when the large out-of-state meatpacking plants were forced to shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic. The report called for additional funding to help expand the state's existing slaughterhouses.

"Maine has long struggled with inadequate institutional capacity for animal slaughter," the report's authors wrote. "There are simply not enough inspected slaughterhouses in the state to slaughter and process the number of animals that Maine producers wish to raise."