State-Inspected Meats Deserve Equal Access to Markets

By Ron de Yong, Director
Montana Department of Agriculture

U.S. consumers enjoy the safest meat and poultry products in the world. State regulatory programs play a key role in assuring that our food is safe, unadulterated and properly labeled.

In Montana, 47 state-inspected slaughter facilities provide beef, lamb, pork and other meat products as well as specialty food items including bacon, smoked meats, jerky and certified organic meat products. An outdated federal law prohibits state-inspected plants from selling products across state lines despite a provision in the law that requires these plants to have safety standards that equal or exceed those of USDA-inspected facilities.

Meat and poultry products from 38 foreign countries can be shipped and sold anywhere in the United States. My friend Roger Johnson, North Dakota agriculture commissioner and president of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, points out that state inspection programs undergo annual audits on more than 125 pages of compliance procedures. By comparison, USDA’s audit document for evaluating foreign inspection systems is a one-page checklist.

The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed legislation to deal with this inequity. Senator Max Baucus and several colleagues have introduced similar legislation in the Senate. These bipartisan measures (S. 1149 and S. 1150) would level the playing field for state-inspected meat processors, including the 47 plants in Montana.

There are many reasons to abolish the 1967 prohibition on interstate shipments of state-inspected meat. Meat and poultry are the only products so restricted. Milk, fruit, vegetables, fish, venison, pheasant, quail and other products can be shipped freely across state lines.

Enabling interstate sales of state-inspected meat and poultry will provide economic fairness and open markets. New marketing opportunities not only will benefit producers, processors and small businesses, but also will give consumers more choices at the supermarket. This change is common sense and it’s the right thing to do.