HB 1219 Brought Discussion to South Dakota Legislature
HB 1219 died on the House floor in Pierre, South Dakota, on Thursday, February 25. But proponents and opponents agree that the basic idea behind it is not going away any time soon.
HB 1219 suggested creating a compact so that producers would be able to ship meat across state lines processed at state inspected facilities within a specific coalition of states. Montana is also bringing similar legislation forward, said Rep. Spencer Gosch, a Republican from district 23 in north central South Dakota, who introduced the bill.
“There was quite a bit of argument against this bill, but I think it’s good that we had the discussion,” Gosch said. “One of the concerns was the loss of USDA funding for our state inspection program, but I thought that it was a dollar figure that we could easily make up within our state’s budget.”
Another argument was that HB 1219 would put South Dakotans in violation of Federal laws regarding interstate shipment of meat without a Federal inspection.
“The Federal Meat Inspection Act is where the codes are with references to cleanliness, food safety and so forth; where ‘equal to’ status is defined.” Gosch said. “Equal to status is clearly defined in FMIA and PPIA, and it’s arguable that if the USDA were to revoke our “at least equal to” meat inspection status, we would have grounds for a challenge in the courts.. Would we have been at risk of a Federal lawsuit if we had passed HB 1219? Yes. What would our likelihood of winning such a lawsuit be? That’s a big question that I would like to find an answer to, but we still need to have the discussion.”
The South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association opposed the bill, but SDCA President Eric Jennings said that the SDCA is in favor of making it easier for South Dakota Producers to market their meat across state lines.
“This was a tough bill for me,” Jennings said. “The Cattlemen’s association has been working for the ability to sell meat across state lines for the last year. But the Food Safety and Inspection Service told the South Dakota Animal Industry Board that this law would put us out of compliance, so we opposed it.”
Jennings said that the discussion between states considering the compact mostly involved states with more cattle than people.
“Only twenty-seven states have a state inspection program in place,” he said. “That is a limiting factor. Most rely on either custom exempt status or the Federal inspection program. The nine states discussing this compact are all in the mid and northwest part of the country. We need to be marketing our beef in areas with higher populations.”
Gosch countered that states such as Montana and South Dakota, which already have the safest meat in the country, can set an example of how a state regulated system could work, and that this could encourage other states to participate in the future.
“We can bring those people along,” he said. “We need to start opening markets in the Midwest; we can show that it works and establish a precedence for free markets while pushing back on federal regulatory overreach. States all over the country, including South Dakota, are legalizing marijuana in spite of Federal laws. Why can’t we do the same with meat?”
HB 1219 is off the table for this year, but interstate meat marketing is not. The South Dakota Animal Industry Board is pursuing participation in the Cooperative Interstate Shipment (CIS) program through the FSIS and USDA. The CIS is a federal program that allows state meat inspectors to be federally trained and then apply the federal inspection stamp on products from participating state inspected facilities, thus allowing for interstate shipment of those products. Dr. Mendel Miller, SD Assistant State Veterinarian, said that COVID has brought changes to the CIS that will make it simpler and more cost effective for South Dakota’s inspectors.
“It is our intention to move forward to participate in this program,” he said. “The biggest advantage is that inspectors can now do the training online; there is no longer need to travel to Dallas or Atlanta to take the training. This also means less expense for us because of no travel costs or hotel stays.”
The CIS program will open up opportunities for farmers and ranchers to build direct markets with consumers outside of South Dakota without having to harvest animals at one of the few Federally inspected facilities in the state.
“It’s the goal of everyone to get as many markets open as possible,” Dr. Miller said.
“Our state inspectors are already qualified,” Jennings said. “This additional training doesn’t change what they already do, it just brings additional recognition for their diligence. With the impact of COVID, many more consumers are looking to source beef directly from producers, and the CIS program can open doors for South Dakotans to make their beef more accessible.”
Gosch still says that reducing, rather than increasing, Federal regulations may be a good thing.
“When you look at all the different levels of bureaucracy, the CIS is more cumbersome than the USDA inspection program,” he said. “We need fewer regulations to wade through, not more. We knew we would have an uphill battle with HB 1219, but it is an important discussion to have. Ranchers are struggling, and they need more options for marketing their beef.”
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