USDA proposes regs on interstate meat shipmentWritten by Christy Hemken
Under the proposed rules, state-inspected establishments would be eligible to ship meat and poultry products in interstate commerce.
Despite some alterations to existing rules, members of the small processing plant industry in Wyoming, along with about half of the other states, aren’t yet making any movements to modify their business plans.
“As far as the process goes, it’s a step ahead, but as far as where Wyoming stands currently, it probably does not provide a lot more opportunity than we had in the recent past,” says Wyoming Department of Agriculture Director Jason Fearneyhough.
“We know some people who are working closely with the legislation, and they say we’re looking at two years before the program will be offered,” says Heather Couture, a manager of Cody Meat in Cody. “When the 2008 farm bill came out, there was a knee-jerk reaction in thinking interstate shipment would happen immediately, but it won’t.”
“The reason we have an issue with the proposed regulations is they’re requiring identical inspection practices in state plants, while foreign countries only have to be ‘equal to,’” says Fearneyhough, who recently returned from the annual gathering of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture where the proposed regulations were discussed.
According to USDA, the new program was created to supplement the existing federal-state cooperative inspection program to allow state-inspected plants with 25 or fewer employees to ship products across state lines. Fearneyhough says that all the plants in Wyoming qualify with less than 25 employees.
Fearneyhough says the problem Wyoming has currently is the processing plants meeting inspection. “The issue is more the physical plants themselves meeting inspection. The intricacies of the plant buildings themselves cannot meet the requirements they’re putting forth.”
The proposed regulations are intended to coincide with the USDA’s new “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiative, which seeks to better connect consumers with local producers to help develop local and regional food systems to spur economic opportunity.
“By successfully restoring the link between consumers with local producers there can be new income opportunities for farmers and generate wealth that will stay in rural communities; a greater focus on sustainable agricultural practices; and families can better access healthy, fresh, locally grown food,” states a USDA release.
Under the proposed rule, selected establishments will receive inspection services from federally trained and/or supervised state inspectors who will verify that the establishments meet all federal food safety requirements. Meat and poultry products produced under the voluntary cooperative program will bear an official USDA mark of inspection, thereby enabling interstate shipment.
Currently, 27 states operate state meat or poultry inspection programs, and FSIS verifies that the state programs are implementing requirements that are “at least equal to” those imposed under the federal meat and poultry products inspection acts.
Couture says the federal government conducted a nationwide review to find if states did meet standards, and that Wyoming received a passing grade for three consecutive years.
The larger packers have opposed the new opportunities for small processing plants, viewing them as competition. “About half of the other states have a problem with their small processing plants, too,” says Fearneyhough. “The other half are where the politics come into play, because they have the large meat plants and union labor. They see the small plants as competition, and they may be, but it’s very small competition.”
“There’s an incredible amount of scrutiny on these new regulations,” says Couture. “There’s a lot of opposition, so I think they’ll take a long time.”
Fearneyhough says opportunity may be created down the road, but the question is if Wyoming’s plant owners want to go to the extra expense to upgrade their plants and ship out of state.
“I think it’s fair to say that because they’ve looked at changing the rule they’re more flexible than they were, but we still have a ways to go,” says Fearneyhough.
Comments on the proposed interstate meat shipment regulations must be received on or before Nov. 16 through the Federal eRulemaking Portal at www.regulations.gov, by mail to: FSIS Docket Room, USDA, FSIS, OPPD, Docket Clearance Unit, 5601 Sunnyside Avenue, Stop 5272, Beltsville, MD 20705.
All comments must identify FSIS and the docket number FSIS-2008-0039. Comments will be available for viewing online at www.fsis.usda.gov.
Ag officials review mobile harvesting facility optionsWritten by Press Release
In Wyoming, ranchers have very few in-state animal harvest options. There are presently 12 state-inspected slaughter plants and 20 state inspected meat-processing plants in Wyoming. Most of these plants are located in a band across the state from the NW to the SE with a couple plants in the SW but no state inspected slaughter plants in the northeast portion of the state. Additionally, there are currently no federally inspected slaughter facilities in Wyoming.
“We are always looking for ways to make agriculture in the state stronger,” said Jason Fearneyhough, Director of the Wyoming Department of Agriculture. “This trip to see the mobile harvesting unit is the first step towards providing another viable processing option for ranchers that makes economic and practical sense.”
Wild Idea Buffalo Company operates the mobile harvest unit that currently services ranchers in western South Dakota. The unit is a self-contained harvesting unit in a 40-45 foot trailer, which is divided into the slaughter room, refrigerated storage area and mechanical room where the generator, air compressor, hot water, restroom and sterilizing fluids are stored. Typically, the unit has a staff of four individuals and can process 10 to 20 animals per day, depending on the type and size of the animal.
The unit is comprised of an over-the-road tractor/trailer unit and can be taken directly to the ranch to be used. Currently, ranchers in the northeast portion of Wyoming have to transport livestock hundreds of miles in order to be slaughtered and processed which can take a toll on the ranchers and the animals.
“There are great expenses associated with the transportation of livestock for processing” said Fearneyhough. “This mobile harvest unit lowers the cost to the producer of slaughtering by eliminating the transport of live animals, while providing a better product because there is less stress on the animal.”
One major reason for the trip was to check to see if the trailer would meet state inspection standards for meat processing plants.
“A major priority of the WDA is to ensure that meat slaughter and processing plants are inspected and meet USDA requirements in order to protect the food supply in Wyoming,” said Dean Finkenbinder, Consumer Health Services Manager. “We were very impressed with the unit from a food safety standpoint and with a few modifications it could work in Wyoming.”
If the WDA determines that the Mobile Harvest Unit is a viable option for Wyoming, it could provide a convenient, certified and cost effective way for ranchers to harvest livestock in the state of Wyoming. The WDA is currently weighing the options and will look further into opportunities a mobile slaughter facility would provide for Wyoming agriculture in the coming weeks.