Congress to consider new meat regs

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Oct 2, 2006
by WLJ

— Twin bills could present windfall opportunity in beef marketing.

Last week, Reps. Roy Blunt, R-MO, and Earl Pomeroy, D-ND, and 12 other representatives introduced H.R. 6130, the New Markets for State-Inspected Meat and Poultry Act of 2006. According to Blunt, under H.R. 6130, beef, pork, poultry and lamb approved by state inspection agencies in the 28 states which currently have their own meat and poultry inspection programs could be sold in every state in the U.S. It will allow the facilities inspected by such state programs to take advantage of opportunities in other states.
The bill is a companion piece of legislation to S.B. 3519, introduced in July of this year by Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-UT, Kent Conrad, D-ND, and Herb Kohl, D-WI, which would, if passed, make similar allowances. That bill already has seven additional co-sponsors supporting its passage. These are just the latest attempts to alter the law. In the past decade, several other attempts to change the regulations controlling interstate shipments of meat have been introduced and defeated in Congress. The last attempt came as part of the 2002 Farm Bill negotiations.

Current law, the 1967 and 1968 Meat and Poultry Acts, prohibits state-inspected products (beef, poultry, pork, lamb, and goat) from being sold in interstate commerce, even though they must equal or exceed federal inspection standards. However, it does allow some meat products such as venison, pheasant and quail to be shipped between states without restriction. Foreign meat and poultry also does not face restriction in interstate trading, while domestic meat is blocked.

State inspectors already cover the work of federal inspectors as a result of the Talmedge-Aiken Act.

According to the Wisconsin Association of Meat Processors (WI-AMP), the Act allows state inspectors to do the work of the feds in more than 350 plants in nine states when it is more cost effective and a better use of resources to utilize state employees.
Several producer groups last week expressed support for the bill when it was announced, among them National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, (NCBA).

“We are supportive of the bill and think it is a great opportunity for producers and especially small businesses to create their own brand identity,” said NCBA spokesperson Karen Batra.

Blunt said the fact USDA has agreed that state inspection programs are ‘at least equal to' federal inspections but are still banned from interstate shipment because of a 40-year-old law is harmful to economic growth in rural areas and reason enough for change.
“I can’t find a good reason—scientific or political—for this law. That is why I want to change it. If we want to open markets for agriculture products, we ought to start at home,” said Blunt.

He also said; “There are 2,000 state-inspected meat processors—31 of them in Missouri—that are prevented from competing in the national marketplace. Yet 30 foreign meat producing countries can sell their meats freely across the nation. Our locally produced, state-inspected meats are just as safe. In fairness, this measure will promote the local livestock sector of agriculture without compromising food safety that consumers demand.”
Already, a number of producers are utilizing federally inspected plants and taking advantage of the internet as a tool to market niche meat products. The passage of this bill would create endless opportunities for others to follow suit. The allowance for interstate shipment of meat from state inspected plants could create a windfall for countless producers and small meat plants hoping to capitalize on the trend. According to USDA figures, there are some 2,100 small and very small processors who would be eligible to ship across state lines. In states like Ohio alone, the opening of the market could create nearly 600 new jobs and add more than $56.6 million to the state's economy, according to Ohio State University research conducted in 1997 when the first bill was introduced.

Another strong advocate for the bill is a group whose membership has direct ties to the issue. National Association of State Departments of Agriculture Executive Vice President and CEO Rick Kirchhoff said that “allowing interstate meat sales is just plain common sense—no other food commodities inspected by state authorities are prohibited from being shipped across state lines.”

Kirchhoff noted “it does not make sense to allow these products to be shipped across state borders while beef, poultry, pork, lamb and goat products cannot be shipped interstate. Where is the logic in this?”

State and local agriculture officials have also pointed out that the legislation would ensure fairness in trade. Foreign produced meat and poultry products can be freely shipped and sold anywhere in the U.S. as long as that foreign country's inspection program is equivalent to U.S. federal standards—in practice, the same standard which state meat inspection programs must meet. “This is unfair and wrong,” said Kirchhoff. "Do 34 foreign countries that are currently eligible to export meat to the U.S. have better inspection programs than we do? H.R. 6130 just makes sense and would provide small businesses in the U.S. with the same marketing opportunities given to companies in foreign countries.”
Three USDA advisory committees have also recommended the outdated ban on interstate sales be removed because it would create jobs and stimulate rural economic development. H.R. 6130 would expand marketing opportunities for farmers and ranchers which they haven’t had in the past.

“We hope Congress will act this year because this legislation will improve competition and benefit farmers, ranchers, and consumers. It’s the right thing to do” said Kirchhoff.

Other groups such as National Farmers Union (NFU) have also stepped up in support of the legislation because of its positive impact for producers who want to expand their marketing opportunities.

“Inadequate market competition is one of the most pressing issues facing local producers and is a major reason so many family farmers and ranchers have been forced out of business,” NFU President Tom Buis said. “Repealing the ban to let domestic farmers trade freely within the country is a big step in ensuring that farm products are able to reach the consumers and markets.”

In a survey of its members this year, WI-AMP found 96 percent of its members were interested in interstate shipments, with 88 percent of those focused on internet marketing of products, and 83 percent in gift sales. A total of 66 percent felt the allowance of interstate shipments would increase profits 5 percent or more annually. — John Robinson, WLJ Editor