COLUMBUS — Small-scale, state-licensed meat processors can breathe a sigh of relief, following a long-awaited U.S. Department of Agriculture decision to allow them to sell across state lines.
The ruling establishes a new voluntary cooperative interstate shipment program, designed to allow greater market potential for these smaller producers.
The policy has been a top issue in Ohio since at least 1997, when former state agriculture director Fred Dailey pushed for interstate marketing among small processors.
It gained additional momentum in the 2008 farm bill, when U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, inserted an amendment that allows state-inspected meats to be transported across state lines on the condition there is federal oversight of the plants.
Previously, meat processed by state-inspected facilities could not be shipped out of the state. This became a serious issue for processors and related companies located near state borders.
“This decision will allow for an economic expansion of Ohio’s rural communities while still guaranteeing the safety and quality of our food,” Brown said in a statement. “By expanding interstate shipments and allowing state food inspections, Ohio’s meat and poultry producers will have widened access to burgeoning markets and increased revenue, all while bolstering Ohio’s agricultural economy.”
Officials with the Ohio Department of Agriculture expressed the same optimism.
“Ohio has been pushing hard to get this done,” said Mike Hockman, chief of the division of meat inspection.
It’s “a slam dunk,” he said, but there will still be some procedural matters. Namely, processors who want to take advantage will need to be part of a cooperative the state initiates with the USDA and its Food Safety and Inspection Service.
Hockman said he’s confident Ohio will meet the necessary requirements of this program. The state’s standards have been determined to be “equal to” federal government standards since the start of the state meat inspection program.
Mike Jessee, owner of Dee-Jay’s Custom Butchering and president of Ohio Association of Meat Processors, said the program is overdue and Ohio is ready to participate.
“The Ohio state-inspected program is equal or greater to the federal program any day,” he said. “I believe the Ohio program is probably one of the best around.”
Even though his facility is located in central Ohio and interstate trade is less likely, the new policy still means more opportunity, and he may later decide to sell to other states through the Internet, he said.
Roger Johnson, president of National Farmers Union, said his organization is pleased to finally see it become a reality.
“The new rule will benefit family farmers and ranchers who utilize smaller plants, because it will increase the market for their products and ensure they receive a fair price,” Johnson said in a statement.
The new policy also has the potential to improve animal welfare, according to Animal Welfare Approved. The organization cites reduced travel, reduced carbon footprint and less stress to animals as possible benefits, along with increasing market potential.
“This practical move has the potential to make it easier for independent, pasture-based farmers to meet the growing demand for their products,” AWA program director Andrew Gunther said in a statement.