August 16, 2012
On August 9, USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced Ohio as the first state to receive approval for the interstate shipment of state-inspected meat and poultry products under a cooperative federal-state inspection program created by the 2008 Farm Bill. Prior to establishment of this Cooperative Interstate Shipment Program, state-inspected meat and poultry products could not be sold across state lines. This prohibition is particularly burdensome for smaller scale, independent livestock and poultry farmers and ranchers, as many of these producers do not farm near small-scale federally inspected plants. They are often shut out of the large-scale federally inspected plants controlled by vertically integrated corporations which require production contracts with farmers, or are shut out of the large plants because the farmers deliver relatively small numbers of livestock or poultry for processing. The Cooperative Interstate Shipment Program offers small-scale meat and poultry processors serving these farmers increased access to markets that may be nearby but are across state lines.
Currently, twenty-five states have state inspection programs for both meat and poultry products and an additional two states have state inspection programs only for meat products. Under the 2008 Farm Bill, states with state inspection programs may enter into a cooperative agreement with USDA that allows selected small, state-inspected businesses with 25 or fewer employees to sell meat or poultry products across state lines. Meat or poultry products produced in establishments selected for the cooperative program are subject to the same regulatory sampling requirements as those established in the federal inspection program. In addition, USDA designates a federal employee as a state coordinator to oversee training and inspection activities of state agency personnel and to assure that meat and poultry plants participating in the cooperative program are in full compliance with the Federal Meat Inspection Act and Poultry Products Inspection Act.
The regulations implementing the 2008 Farm Bill cooperative program were finalized in 2011 and it has taken a year for the first state to receive approval for interstate shipments of meat products under the cooperative program. In its announcement of the approval of Ohio’s Cooperative Interstate Shipment Program, USDA also disclosed that it will soon publish a directive detailing how other states and small businesses can join the Program. Deputy Secretary Merrigan noted in a teleconference that Wisconsin, Indiana, and North Dakota are currently seeking approval to participate in the Cooperative Interstate Shipment Program.
NSAC supported the inclusion of the Program in the 2008 Farm Bill and hopes that the USDA directive can provide a clear process for more states to participate in order to provide farmers and ranchers more local markets for safe and wholesome meat and poultry products. In addition, NSAC supports a provision included in the Farm Bill approved by the House Agriculture Committee in July, that would require USDA to make recommendations on steps that need to be taken to better serve small and very small meat and poultry processing facilities with 25 or fewer employees and to improve user access to information on the meat and poultry label approval process. This provision was in an amendment to the House Farm Bill, sponsored by Representative Chellie Pingree, that addresses a major current roadblock to increased marketing for sustainable livestock and poultry products. The provision is not included in the version of the Farm Bill approved by the Senate.