Comment period closes on USDA proposed regulations
By CAROL RYAN DUMAS
A new voluntary program to allow small, state-inspected processing facilities to ship meat and poultry products across state lines is closer to reality.
The comment period on the proposed regulations for the long-awaited program, authorized by the 2008 Farm Bill, closed Wednesday, Dec. 16.
State-inspected establishments with 25 or fewer employees soon will be eligible for the program, which will have oversight from federal inspectors. The directive is one component of USDA's "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" initiative to help develop local and regional food systems and spur economic opportunity.
"Restoring the link between consumers and local producers will not only open new income opportunities for small farmers and generate wealth that will stay in rural communities, it will also expand access to healthy, fresh, and locally produced food," USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan said.
Farm groups have long lobbied to revise laws dating from the 1960s that prohibited sales and shipments of state-inspected meat and poultry across state lines. They argued the laws were outdated and punitive as state-inspected plants must meet the standards of those that are federally inspected.
"That particular issue has been going on for decades," said Marv Patten, Dairy Bureau chief at the Idaho State Department of Agriculture.
Prohibited shipping was viewed as particularly onerous since other state-inspected food, including milk, dairy products, fruits, vegetables, fish and shellfish are marketed freely across the country. Even other meats and game birds, such as bison, venison, rabbit, pheasant and quail, can be shipped without restriction.
The new provision to allow interstate shipping is expected to broaden opportunity in states that have state inspection programs for meat and poultry.
However, Idaho, Washington, Oregon and California don't have state meat inspection programs, according to the USDA. A total of 23 states do not have meat inspection programs.