Meat in the Middle: Colorado and Nebraska have processing bills on deck
A bill known as the Ranch to Plate Act will go before the Colorado legislature when the session reconvenes this week to allow a producer to sell raised meat on shares for future delivery. The bill, introduced by Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, and Rep. Rod Pelton, R-Cheyenne Wells, would deregulate meat sales with the requirement that end consumers would be made aware that the seller is not licensed and the animals or meat is not subject to state regulation or inspection by a public health agency; the animals or meat is not intended for resale; and the animals or meat are delivered directly from the seller to an informed end consumer and sold only in Colorado. Additionally, each purchaser must be listed on the brand inspection certificate.
Sonnenberg said there will be a few changes to the bill including the addition of bison and the exclusion of poultry.
In Nebraska, a revision to the Nebraska Meat and Poultry Inspection Act is being considered that would create a state meat inspection program. According to the Nebraska Farm Bureau, 27 states currently maintain their own state inspection programs, with United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service providing up to 50% of the state’s operating funds. The other 23 states, including Nebraska, rely entirely on federal inspection. State-level meat inspection must be “equal to” federal standards, and in order to retail meat, a processing facility cannot conduct slaughter operations without a state (where applicable) or federal inspector present. Exemptions to inspection include custom-exempt and retail-exempt (in addition to non-amenable species like deer, rabbit, etc.). At custom-exempt facilities, meat can be processed for an animal owner, exclusively for use by the owner. The key, according to a NEFB policy guide, is that ownership of the animal is established before the animal is delivered for slaughter. This rule on ownership is loosely interpreted to allow more than one owner. At retail-exempt facilities, meat or carcasses are purchased from other state or federally inspected facilities and further processed or trimmed. An example of retail-exempt would be grocery store meat counters, buying whole carcasses then cutting to customers’ specifications. There are 73 federally inspected meat and poultry plants in Nebraska, inspected by 325 inspectors.
In Nebraska, like the other 23 states without state-level inspection, the federal government bears full responsibility and cost for inspecting all facilities, both interstate and intrastate sellers. Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, South Dakota and Wyoming all have state-level inspection (in some cases states have only federal inspection for poultry). While the USDA seemingly reversed its opinion about interstate shipment of state inspected products in 1999, state inspected meat can only be sold within the state. Nebraska discontinued its state inspection program in 1971, primarily because of cost.
Brewer’s bill would implement a state inspection program with an employed administrator responsible for developing, implementing, and operating the program. This person would cooperate with the federal government to prepare a state performance plan with provisions for ante mortem and post-mortem inspection, reinspection, sanitation, and management. Brewer’s bill would also create the Cooperative State Meat Inspection Cash Fund.
Wyoming enacted the Food Freedom Act in 2015 and an amendment was introduced last year that made it possible to sell herd shares of their livestock, meeting the exemption standards of the Federal Meat Inspection Act as the customers “own” the animal prior to slaughter.
In Colorado, Sen. Sonnenberg anticipates the Ranch to Plate Act to pass which will be a boon to consumers and producers.
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