Meat and poultry producers from the 27 states that operate their own inspection services for meat and poultry processed by small plants whose sales are strictly intrastate get chances on Oct. 27 and Nov. 5 to advocate for cross-border sales.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to conduct teleconferences from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. on each of those dates on its proposed regulation to allow State-inspected establishments with 25 or fewer employees to be eligible to ship meat and poultry in interstate commerce.

Opening interstate sales of meat and poultry from small state-inspected plants was called for in the 2008 Farm Bill and the change is now a component of USDA’s “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” campaign to promote local and regional food markets.

“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,” said USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan.  “These meetings will help ensure that the proposed regulations successfully open doors for small meat and poultry establishments to provide safe products to their communities.”

Currently, USDA’s Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS) must inspect domestic meat and poultry before it can enter interstate commerce.  Foreign meat and poultry can be sold in the U.S. from countries whose inspection schemes are equivalent or greater than those of FSIS.

USDA has published new regulations in the Federal Register that could make those state-inspected plants eligible to ship meat and poultry in interstate commerce.

Small plants whose products are inspected under state inspection programs that are “at least equal to” those imposed under the Federal meat and poultry inspection acts will be eligible introduce their products into interstate commerce.

For inspection programs that qualify, FSIS will provide up to 50 percent of the state’s operating funds and USDA will provide oversight and enforcement.  USDA will also provide training and supervision for the state programs.  In exchange, the meat and poultry products from these state-inspected small plants will be eligible to carry the USDA mark of inspection to make interstate shipment legal.

State-inspected plants with more than 25 employees and those not selected for the program will continue to be limited to in-state sales only.

States inspect 1,976 facilities, consisting of mostly small, family-owned meat processors.  The state-inspected facilities provide services to smaller scale farms and those with niche markets such as grass-fed beef or pasture-raised pork.  More than half of the small plants are located in the 11 upper Midwest states.

Pre-registration is required to participate in these meetings. Information about the meetings, including how to register and the agenda will be made available for viewing on the FSIS web site. Call-in information will be provided via e-mail to pre-registered participants.

Comments on this voluntary cooperative program may also be submitted on or before November 16, 2009, using either the Federal eRulemaking Portal, or by mail. Send any mail to Docket Clerk, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service, Room 2-2127 George Washington Carver Center, 5601 Sunnyside Avenue, Beltsville, MD 20705, MAILSTOP 5272. All comments must identify FSIS and the docket number FSIS-2008-0027.

For further information contact Philip Derfler, Assistant Administrator, Office of Policy and Program Development, at (202) 720-2709, or by fax at (202) 720-2025.