Common sense: shipping beef across state lines
As summer draws near, so does the grazing season, outdoor grilling and the reopening of farmers markets across the country. For many producers, these markets are an opportunity to sell everything from beef to strawberries to local consumers, and often for a premium.
However, under current guidelines, these value-added niche programs are limited to marketing to customers within state lines. A producer selling under a state-inspected program who is wanting to increase his customer base beyond a state’s borders faces a great deal of red tape to make it happen.
This problem could be addressed in the upcoming Farm Bill. Three U.S. senators including Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), Angus King (I-Maine) and John Thune (R-S.D.) have introduced a new bipartisan bill, the New Markets for State-Inspected Meat and Poultry Act, that would allow meat and poultry products inspected by state Meat and Poultry Inspection (MPI) programs to be sold across state lines.
The bill has already drawn support from several agricultural groups including the United States Cattlemen’s Association (USCA), South Dakota Farm Bureau, Maine Farm Bureau, South Dakota Pork Producers, South Dakota Meat Inspection Program, South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard, South Dakota Stockgrowers and South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association (SDCA).
“We have been working on this issue since 2008,” said Jess Peterson, USCA senior policy analyst. “Back then, concerns about food safety resulted in the Cooperative Interstate Shipment (CIS) program to be developed. Although I think it was a well-intentioned program designed to allow state-inspected plants to operate as federally-inspected facilities and ship products across state lines, the end result was that to be compliant, it required too much time and paperwork for these small processors to qualify, and if they were to go through all of the hassle and expense, they might as well be a federal plant.”
Currently, the CIS program, which is certified and overseen by the Food and Safety Inspection Service, is limited to plants in just 27 states that are considered to meet or exceed federal inspection standards. However, 10 years after its introduction, only four of those 27 states (North Dakota, Wisconsin, Ohio and Illinois) are participating in the CIS program; meanwhile products from the remaining FSIS-approved state MPI inspected facilities are not currently allowed to be sold across state lines.
If approved, this bill would open address the inequities of current laws (where imported South American beef can be shipped in, labeled as USDA inspected and sold across the country while small state-inspected and approve processors and ranchers cannot) to now allow for these producers to ship and sell products not just in their home states but through online retail that could draw in consumers from California to New York.
“Food safety tends to become the focus of the discussions on this topic, but I contend that these products are already on the shelves, so if they are safe to sell in South Dakota, they are safe to sell in any other state,” said Peterson. “We may see some pushback from large plants who see this as more competition; however, it’s not additional product that is going to be in the marketplace, and it’s not an increased safety risk. The product is already for sale, so why limit our small producers and processors from selling to customers from one state to another?”
If included within the language of the Farm Bill, the New Markets for State-Inspected Meat and Poultry Act would open access for interstate commerce to the 33 state-inspected processing plants in South Dakota and could also incentivize the 40+ custom exempt plants to dust off their HACCP paperwork and take advantage of these new opportunities, as well.
“This is a great opportunity for the small processors who are under our state inspection program to sell their premium products,” said Dr. Dustin Oedekoven, South Dakota Animal Industry board state veterinarian. “One of the challenges that these processors have had is that their meat and poultry products are restricted for the sale and distribution only in this state. We have processors in Rapid City and Spearfish who produce a great product that ship all the way to Sioux Falls, but they can’t ship product 30-60 miles west to Sundance, Wyo. It just doesn’t make any sense, and when it becomes unfair to our small businesses and ranch families that we serve, something needs to be done about it. After 20 years of working on this issue, I’m thankful for our South Dakota delegation for getting the conversation rolling again to address this issue.”
Many ranches butcher their own steers for personal use, selling quarters to friends, families and neighbors. Often this leads to creating a beef brand and a marketing plan, which can become reality when overseen by one of these small state-inspected plants, says Oedekoven.
“We are set to fill that role and help producers establish their private labels for niche marketing opportunities,” he said. “This doesn’t take away from the large production at major plants, but unless our small state-inspected plants have equal recognition for the safety of their products that the big plants do, the marketability of these small programs becomes severely limited. With this bill, private labels can now have access to a much broader clientele for their value-added products.”
“SDCA has a long-standing policy of supporting the shipment of meat across state lines,” said Jodie Anderson, SDCA executive director. “We are confident in our state inspectors, and we believe our producers should have every opportunity to market directly to consumers instead of being forced to go through traditional channels. We feel there is no reason not to be confident in these products that are inspected by our state employees. It’s good to finally be having these discussions, and we are thankful to Senator Rounds and the other leaders for introducing this legislation and helping to expand producers’ marketing options.”
“It’s a no-brainer,” added Peterson. “When we ask ourselves what we can do to revitalize rural America — this is it. It’s a great stimulus for producers to capture additional dollars through value-added opportunities to sell their beef to consumers in urban areas not limited to their own states. This not only helps producers, but also supports more local and state jobs, more processing plants and more meat produced. It’s beneficial on all fronts, so let’s make it happen!”
Of the bill, Senator Rounds said in a press release, “At a time of economic downturn within the agricultural sector, opening up new markets for South Dakota producers is critically important. Currently in South Dakota, cattle, sheep, swine and goat products are limited to markets within the state even though they are required to go through inspection at an FSIS-approved state facility. Because the state inspection programs are required to be ‘at least equal to’ or better than the federal inspection standards, products that pass state inspection should be able to be sold across state lines. Our bipartisan, commonsense bill will create new markets for producers and give consumers more choices at the grocery store, while continuing to maintain the high quality and safety standards necessary to keep consumers healthy.”
Senator King added, “Maine farmers and producers who meet or exceed high-quality state inspection standards for their meat and poultry should have the freedom to access new markets in other states. It makes no sense that a local farmer should have to jump through extra federal hoops to compete outside of Maine if they have proven the quality of their product at a federally-approved state facility. This common sense legislation gives our state’s agricultural sector more flexibility to expand its customer base and bring Maine-made meat and poultry products to people throughout the country.”