Guidance to Ranchers and Custom Exempt Processors Regarding the Ranch to Plate Act (SB21-079)

During the 2021 Legislative Session, SB21-079, the "Ranch to Plate Act" passed and was signed into law. This act promotes increased access for consumers to directly purchase meat and meat products from local ranchers through the use of live animal-share agreements. Primarily, this act clarifies that the sale of animals, animal shares, or meat is exempt from state licensure and inspection by a public health agency, provided proper requirements are met. 

The Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA) has provided this guide to help  ranchers, livestock owners, and processors understand the applicability of this new legislation and, most importantly, how it interacts with existing state and federal laws governing processing requirements for meat sold in the marketplace.

There are three primary options to processing meat in Colorado to ranchers and animal owners: 

  1. Personal exemption: Occurs when the animal owner slaughters and processes the animal themselves. This meat is intended to be consumed by the animal owner, owner's family, and non-paying guests. Personal exemption meat may not be sold to other consumers or retail establishments.
    • Pro: Able to process based on the ranchers capacity
    • Con: Cannot sell meat or an animal share agreement. 
  2. Custom exempt slaughter and processing: Custom exempt operators provide a slaughter and processing service to animal owners, including wild game. These operators are not USDA inspected but are licensed and inspected by the CDA to monitor compliance with state and federal requirements. Custom exempt operators do not sell meat or meat products; instead, they provide a slaughter and processing service. This service may occur in conjunction with the pre-slaughter sale of an animal or a portion of an animal to an individual or a group of individuals. Custom exempt operators must return meat products to the original owners or denature or otherwise identify or destroy the products. Products must be marked NOT FOR SALE and are intended to be consumed by the owner, family member, and non-paying guests.
    • Pro: Can be used to process animals that are part of animal share agreement
    • Con: Custom processing is a popular option. Many operators are at capacity, and owners may have to wait for animals to be processed.   
  3. USDA inspected facilities: These inspected facilities are under continuous inspection from the time the animal is delivered to the facility through final processing. USDA further regulates the inspected meat through delivery to the customer. USDA inspected meat can be sold to individuals, retail establishments, and wholesale channels.
    • Pro: Allows for the opportunity to sell directly to consumers and retail establishments
    • Con: Processing costs may be higher, and a processor may have to transport the animal to the facility.

The Ranch to Plate Act provides three distinct benefits for individuals looking to increase direct sales to consumers: 

Establishes requirements to be exempted from state public health inspection to sell processed meat to end consumers directly

The Ranch to Plate Act allows a person to sell meat, animals, or shares of cattle, calves, sheep, bison, goats, hogs, and rabbits to an informed end consumer for future delivery without regulation or inspection by a public health agency, if the following conditions are met:

  • The end consumer must be informed. This means the person making the sale either gives the purchaser a document or conspicuously displays a placard, sign, or card at the point of sale, with the following disclaimer:
  • "The seller of this meat is not subject to licensure, and the sale of animals or meat from this seller is not subject to state regulation or inspection by a public health agency. Animals or meat purchased from this seller are not intended for resale.";
  • The animal or animal share (of at least one percent) and meat being sold are delivered directly from the seller to the informed end consumer;
  • The informed end consumer does not resell the product; and,
  • The meat is sold only in Colorado.

Additionally, the seller of the live animal is not liable in a civil action for damages caused by inadequate cooking or improper preparation for consumption.

The Ranch to Plate Act does not reduce the regulatory authority of CDA to regulate the custom processing of meat animals through licensing and inspection, nor impact the regulations established in the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA), which the USDA administers. CDA is not considered a public health agency, as defined in the act.

Defines "animal share" or community shared agriculture to be at a minimum of one percent ownership 

The Ranch to Plate Act clarifies an animal share as an ownership interest of at least one percent in the meat of a live animal. However, ownership must be established while the animal is alive if processed by a custom exempt processor.

  • Ranchers commonly sell ownership interest, or shares, in live meat animals to others to consume for themselves, their family, and non-paying guests. The live animals are usually sold and processed as whole, half or quarters, by a licensed custom exempt processor. The Ranch to Plate Act allows for the distribution of an animal share as low as one percent, which would result in smaller volumes of meat for each animal share owner.  
  • Animal share agreement and the transfer of ownership interest must be completed and documented while the animal is alive to comply with state and federal regulations. Animal shares may be processed by a custom exempt operator or USDA inspected facility.
  • Meat sold or donated to end consumers who do not have an ownership interest must still be processed at a USDA-inspected facility.

Clarifies only one brand inspection is required for animals with multiple owners.  

Livestock remains subject to brand inspection. However, an authorized Colorado brand inspector only needs to inspect the animal once before slaughter regardless of the multiple owners. 

All processing is still subject to state and federal regulations. However, single owners of an animal can process their animal themselves under the "personal use" exemption to the FMIA. The personal use exemption allows the owner to slaughter and process their animal exclusively for themselves, members of their household, non-paying guests, or employees.  

The Ranch to Plate Act does not allow a rancher or other animal owner to slaughter and self-process an animal under an animal share agreement and distribute the meat to multiple owners. Such action could be considered a violation of the personal use exemption found in the FMIA and may be subject to regulatory action by the USDA. 

The USDA Food Safety Inspection Service (USDA/FSIS) agency has advised CDA that the FMIA regulations on the personal use exemption are intended for exclusive use by an individual, not by multiple owners of a single animal. USDA/FSIS concurs with CDA that animals owned by multiple owners must be processed in either a USDA inspected facility or by a CDA licensed custom exempt meat processor.   

More detailed information can be found on page 2 of the FSIS Guidelines on the exemptions from the FMIA.

The Ranch to Plate Act does not apply to the processing of poultry. Poultry owners can still acquire a license with CDA to process and sell up to 20,000 of their own birds; and sell to retail food establishments and directly to consumers, as long as they acquire a custom exempt processor license and comply with the program regulations. 

Additional Resources:

Type of sale and the processing options for various meat products - PDF

Additional questions can be directed to Julie Mizak, Program Manager julie.mizak@state.co.us 303-869-9099