Please note that the Grassroots Guide has not yet been updated to reflect changes made by the 2018 Farm Bill, which was passed and signed into law in December 2018. We are in the process of updating the Guide and expect to publish an updated version in the spring of 2019. In the meantime, please use this guide for basic information about programs and important resources and links for more information, but check with USDA for any relevant program changes made by the 2018 Farm Bill. Also, check out our blog series covering highlights from the new farm bill.
Growing regional markets for niche meat products is an important strategy for farmers and ranchers using sustainable livestock systems that command a consumer premium. However, when the only small meat and poultry processing plants in close proximity to a producer are staffed with state inspectors rather than federal inspectors, the resulting product can generally only be sold within the state, even if the biggest market is an urban area just across the state line from the farm. Hence the importance of Cooperative Interstate Shipment (CIS), a program that allows state-inspected meat and poultry plants to operate as federally-inspected plants, under specific conditions, and thus ship their products into interstate commerce. Currently only four states participate in the program – Indiana, North Dakota, Ohio, and Wisconsin – though a total of 27 states have state-inspection programs and hence could become eligible for interstate sales in the future, expanding economic opportunities for small meat and poultry processors, strengthening state and local economies, and increasing consumer access to safe, local and regionally-produced food.
Before enactment of the 2008 Farm Bill, the Federal Meat Inspection Act and Poultry Products Inspection Act prohibited selling state-inspected meat and poultry products (beef, poultry, pork, lamb and goat) across state lines. This regulation was in sharp contrast to other state-inspected food products (milk, dairy products, fruit, vegetables, fish and shellfish), which are freely marketed across the country. Furthermore, meat and poultry products from 34 foreign countries could then and still can also be freely shipped and sold anywhere in the United States. Even “non-amenable” products – such as venison, bison, pheasant, quail, rabbit and others – can be shipped across state lines without restriction even though state inspection programs regulate these products.
The federal restrictions on interstate shipment of meat and poultry can be a burden on small farmers and ranchers, who may not live near small-scale federally-inspected meat and poultry plants and are often shut out of large-scale federally-inspected plants, because they do not have contracts with the processors or because they deliver relatively small lots at one time for processing.
Twenty-seven states currently have state inspection programs for meat and poultry. They serve more than 2,000 state-inspected meat processors, which are mostly small, family-owned businesses often providing processing services for smaller-scale farms or for specialized, niche markets such as grass-fed beef or pasture-raised pork.
The Cooperative Interstate Shipment program, created by the 2008 Farm Bill and administered by the Food Safety Inspection Service, allows for the interstate shipment of meat and poultry and their products from certain small state-inspected packing and processing establishments.
The program does not allow for the interstate shipment of all meat and poultry that have been inspected by state agencies under state law. The new system creates a hybrid federal-state process, with the following features:
The program is open to meat and poultry processors with up to 25 employees in states with inspection programs that have been approved by FSIS.
Ohio became the first state to participate in 2012. North Dakota and Wisconsin joined in 2013, and Indiana came on board in 2014.
Other states with state inspection but that are not yet part of the CIS program are: Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wyoming.
Prairie du Sac-based Wyttenbach Meats, LLC, a family-run farm and meat processing business that opened its doors in 2002, became the first Wisconsin company to start shipping products to other states under the CIS program. Its smoked meats and sausage are made on site and have won numerous awards. The beef is raised on the Fritz Wyttenbach family farm and the pork on the Jack Wyttenbach family farm.
Great Lakes Smoked Meats, a family-owned business located in Lorain, Ohio and started in 2009, is using the program to expand their business that produces dozens of varieties of smoked meat products including sausage, kielbasa, andouille, and bratwurst. Since the start of the Ohio program, Great Lakes is now selling its products in neighboring states, including grocery stores in Pennsylvania.
How to Apply and Program Resources
State agencies that run their state’s meat and poultry inspection program can apply to FSIS. In order to qualify, the state agency needs to demonstrate compliance with all the requirements under the Federal Meat Inspection Act and Poultry Products Inspection Act, including:
Once the state application is approved, small and very small meat and poultry processors in that state can apply to the relevant state agency to get approval to sell into interstate commerce.
The CIS program was authorized as part of the 2008 Farm Bill and was left unchanged by the 2014 Farm Bill. The rule implementing the program was finalized in 2011. Funding for its implementation is part of FSIS’ annual discretionary budget, a function of he annual agricultural appropriations bill.
Section 11015 of the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act (FCEA) of 2008 amends the Federal Meat Inspection Act by adding a new Title V – “Inspections by Federal and State Agencies” – to be codified at 21 U.S.C. Section 683 and amends the Poultry Products Inspection Act by adding a new Section 31, to be codified at 21 U.S.C. Section 472.
Last updated in November 2014.