USDA program broadens market for state-inspected meat plants

Apr 20, 2011 (CIDRAP News) – Under a new US Department of Agriculture (USDA) program, small meat and poultry plants under the food safety authority of state inspectors will be able to ship their products across state lines.

In the voluntary program, plants with 25 or fewer employees will be inspected by state personnel who have been trained in enforcing federal meat and poultry standards, the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) said.

The facilities will be required to comply with all standards under the Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Federal Poultry Inspection Act, and their products will bear an official USDA inspection mark, the agency said.

"We're excited to announce this new rule that offers smaller plants the opportunity to expand their market and sell their products to new customers," FSIS Administrator Al Almanza said in the FSIS announcement. "Allowing these state-inspected establishments to ship their products across state lines has the potential to expand rural development and jobs, increase local tax bases, strengthen rural communities, and ensure that food is safe for consumers."

The program provides that the USDA will appoint an employee in each state to oversee the program, with power to suspend inspections at a facility if it violates the federal safety standards.

The program was applauded by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) in a statement today. "The final rule reinforces the principle that meat and poultry products sold in interstate commerce should remain subject to the requirements of the federal meat and poultry inspection laws," the organization said in a press release.

CFA said the program is the result of a compromise on interstate meat and poultry shipments that was included in the 2008 federal farm bill. The organization said it worked on the agreement with numerous other groups representing farmers, state agriculture agencies, food workers, and consumers.

CFA said it supports FSIS's decision to include part-time and temporary employees as well as full-time workers in the 25-employee limit in the program. Most very small plants have few full-time workers, and this provision helps ensure that the program serves the small businesses it was intended to serve, the group said.

Under the 2008 law that authorized the new program, the FSIS is required to reimburse states for 60% of their costs for inspecting the participating facilities, according to an advance copy of the FSIS Federal Register notice about the program. The FSIS may also provide grants to states to help them enroll small businesses in the program.

See also:

Apr 19 FSIS press release

FSIS Federal Register notice

Apr 20 CFA press release

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