A coalition of consumer, labor and farm groups report that compromise legislation addressing interstate shipment of meat will be made part of the U.S. Senate farm bill.

The  compromise will create a program for interstate sales and shipment of meat and poultry products from certain small plants. The plants will operate under the requirements of the Federal Meat and Poultry Inspection Acts. The resulting products will bear the USDA inspection seal and can be sold in interstate commerce.

Participating in the coalition are the National Farmers Union, Consumer Federation of America, National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, American Federation of Government Employees, Food & Water Watch, Center for Science in the Public Interest, National Consumers League, Center for Foodborne Illness Research and Prevention, Government Accountability Project, and United Food and Commercial Workers. 

"It has taken many years to reach this compromise and I am pleased that smaller producers will finally have the opportunity to compete on a level playing field. For too long, small producers have been shut out of markets but will now be able to ship their high-quality products across state lines," says Tom Buis, NFU president.

"On behalf of the 6,500 federal meat and poultry inspectors, we at AFGE support this new agreement because it will improve food safety by strengthening federal inspection. The new agreement requires that small meat and poultry plants that want to sell in interstate commerce must comply with federal meat and poultry inspection laws and operate under the close USDA supervision," says Beth Moten, AFGE legislative director.

The Act would:

  • Create a new, optional program for companies previously operating under state inspection laws that want to sell in interstate commerce;
  • Require companies to operate under the federal meat and poultry inspection laws and provide federal oversight of operations in these plants;
  • Encourage states to increase food safety testing by having USDA reimburse states for 100 percent of the costs for testing that exceeds the testing frequency of the federal government;
  • Covers establishments with up to 25 employees;
  • Direct USDA to develop a procedure for establishments that employ more than 25 employees and want to ship in interstate commerce to help those companies transition to federal inspection;
  • Provide for companies in the program to use a federal mark, stamp, tag or label of inspection;
  • Reimburse states for not less than 60 percent of the costs of operating the Title V program;
  • Establish the position of State Coordinator, a federal employee, who will provide oversight and enforcement; oversee training and inspection activities; assure that plants are in full compliance of the Federal Meat Inspection Act and this Title; and report to the Secretary of USDA on status of the plant operations;    
  • Establish an inspection training division within the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) to coordinate initiatives to provide outreach, education, and training to small or very small establishments;
  • Require USDA's Office of Inspector General to conduct periodic audits to assure plants operating under Title V are complying with federal requirements; and
  • Offer states an optional inspection tool. States will continue to maintain their current Title III cooperative agreements with USDA which require state inspection programs to be at least "equal to" federal requirements. USDA will continue their oversight of these programs, which includes an annual review of nine detailed components. States will still be required to implement any regulations, directives, and guidance issued by USDA, including all federal food safety and consumer protection requirements.

    Source: National Farmers Union