Ft. Pierre butcher plant still awaits USDA inspection
LIVING IN A NIGHTMARE
Turning steers into steaks requires sharp steel, skill and sanitation.
Turning those steaks into dollars requires marketing and…inspection.
Enter new meat processing plants seeking USDA inspection.
Processing plants usually have one or more of three types of inspection:
Custom Exempt plants are approved only to slaughter meat for the animal owner – most small town processers who slaughter a few head per week fit this bill.
State-inspected meat plants (some states, like South Dakota, have their own inspection program) can process meat for sale within the state.
Federally (USDA) inspected plants process meat that can be sold anywhere in the world.
Kim Ulmer with US Beef Producers, a new plant in Ft. Pierre, South Dakota, seeks USDA inspection, but has yet to be approved for it.
A plant seeking an inspector is obliged to submit an application for inspection. Conditions for receiving an inspection require the plant to have a written Sanitation Operating Procedures, and have conducted a hazard analysis and developed and validated a HACCP plan (Hazard analysis and critical control points). This is a food safety monitoring system and is used to identify hazards within the facility and determines critical control points in the process of food production. Plants are encouraged to hire a consultant to help them write up their plans and submit the proper forms.
If and when the plant receives the grant of inspection, the inspection service is provided free of charge (tax payer funded) for the first eight hours per shift. All overtime shall be paid by the plant. The inspector examines each animal before and after slaughter and oversees sanitation procedures to ensure the meat is fit to eat and compliant with federal laws for retail sale. The USDA has a large number of these positions available on their website.
Ulmer was told by the USDA that he would receive his grant of inspection within 90 days of application. He was assured of this before he and his investors signed the papers to purchase the old Bad River Pack building in Ft. Pierre. He filed his application March 1, 2020. He expected to have his inspection by June 1. So far he has had his HACCP plan rejected numerous times, even after he hired certified consultants to help him. “The government has a 504-page manual of rules and I don’t think our elected officials know what’s in it. There are words in that manual I have had to look up in the dictionary. I have been educated really fast on government regulations. The government has created the problem with their regulations. I feel that they are afraid to put us in business. We are new and inexperienced so they are being very cautious with us.”
Ulmer and his investors decided to go the route of federal inspection based on what Dr. Mendel Miller, South Dakota Assistant State Veterinarian, told him.
Dr. Miller said he encouraged Ulmer to seek USDA inspection in order to have the flexibility to sell his beef across state lines. “It’s really simple; he said that he had buyers in other states and in order to sell to other states you have to be federally inspected. State inspection only applies to meat sold within the state,” Miller said.
Ulmer and 13 others invested half a million dollars in their plant and were planning on investing further by remodeling space to open a retail store. They had cattle scheduled and a grand opening planned for July 4, but everything had to be canceled. Ulmer said they even had to battle to get “not for sale/custom kill” certified. So far they have been busy with custom processing but he fears that there isn’t enough business in the area to support them once the Covid panic decreases.
Ulmer’s consultants have told him that in years past, the grant of inspection was easier to achieve.
Jensen’s Blue Ribbon Processing in Fowler, Colorado has been USDA inspected for over 20 years and never has had an issue. The same goes for Willow Creek Meats in McCook, Nebraska. Shona Carlin owns the plant along with her husband Scott. “We have been inspected for years, probably close to 30 years and have never had a problem or issue. Our inspector is full-time, his office is here.”
She said USDA inspection has been a big help to their business. Having meat inspected can be a huge benefit to producers since they can market the meat direct to consumers instead of having to sell the animal on the hoof.
Says Ulmer: “Some people are living the dream; right now I’m living the nightmare of government regulations.”
Ulmer said the government officials have all been very nice but they aren’t allowed to help companies meet the requirements. He urges farmers and ranchers to call and write their representatives and senators, to lobby for a change in the government regulations to help small business owners. “There are three legs to marketing, ranchers are really good at raising calves, and there are many good backgrounders and feedlots. But the third leg of marketing is allowed to go to the big packers. I’m a cattle producer trying to get into the third leg. Fourteen of us bought a plant, based on the USDA saying they would give us the inspection,” he said. “There is no system set up to help us get in the business, it’s been six months are we are no closer than we were in March. I feel they don’t want us in business.”
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Cost savings, easier workload, better animal and rancher health are driving a shift to calve with nature in South Dakota.