Nebraska may soon join 27 other states with their own meat and poultry inspection services under a bill passed by the Unicameral Legislature. In a 35-1 vote, it asked the Department of Agriculture to study the issue and return with a plan by Nov. 15.

Sponsors sold the bill (Legislative Bill 305) as an economic development measure, offering processing options for “niche” meats like bison, elk and ostrich.  

It could also set up a processing option for unwanted horses, and that brought opposition from horse groups like the Break Heart Ranch Horse Rescue and Harmony Hill Stables.

Nebraska’s Department of Agriculture gets to tap a dedicated fund for commercial feed administration for the $200,000 it will take to develop and implement the new state meat and poultry inspection.   

If the state can follow its original outline, it will be in the business of inspecting meat and meat products for human consumption by no later than Jan. 1, 2013.  It plans to comply with federal regulations for state-inspected establishments.

Nebraska’s law calls for the state Department of Agriculture to consult with USDA in “the preparation of a state performance plan that implements inspection program standards at least equal to those imposed under federal meat and poultry inspection.”

Under the 2008 Farm Bill, small plants under state inspection schemes that are equal to federal standards are supposed to be able to sell their products across state lines. However, even though it’s part of USDA’s “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” agenda, no regulations have been adopted to allow such sales.

Except to the west. where Colorado does not offer state inspection, Nebraska is surrounded by states with their own programs. State Sen. Tom Carlson, R-District 38, said LB305 is an “economic development tool to assist smaller local meat producers offering products.” 

The lineup of supporters for state meat inspection included such heavyweights as the Nebraska Cattlemen, Nebraska Farm Bureau, and Nebraska Farmers Union. United Horsemen and the Belgian Draft Horse Corporation of America also backed it.

Carlson acknowledged it would “reinstate a processing option to deal with Nebraska’s unwanted horses.”

In any typical year, Nebraska’s federal establishments kill more cattle than all but a couple of states. But almost all of that meat is processed by the big beef companies that dominate the state.

Supporters of LB305 say remote areas of Nebraska, away from state borders, are at an economic disadvantage now because they cannot process meat.

Congress pulled the plug on the horse slaughter business in the United States in 2007, forcing the last three facilities to go out of business. Wild unwanted horse populations are growing in the West, prompting roundups to take thousands to Mexico and Canada where they can be slaughtered.

Horsemeat is exported to Europe and Asia, where it is sold for human consumption.