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Business & Economics

South Dakota Applies For Meat-Shipment Program It Previously Avoided

1c4d43eb30_6d09c1345d_b9360b052c_DicksCountryButcher.jpg
SDPB
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Dick's Country Butcher shop serves patrons in southeast South Dakota.

 

After years of avoiding it, South Dakota is applying to a federal program that allows interstate shipments of state-inspected meat. 

The application is motivated by problems highlighted during the early days of the pandemic, when temporary shutdowns and slowdowns at packing plants made meat scarce in grocery stores. Consumers nationwide turned to small processors like local lockers, but in South Dakota, most of those local meat processors could not ship their meat to other states.  

That’s because most small processors in South Dakota are state-inspected. Only federally inspected meat processors can sell their products across state lines. 

The one exception to that rule is the Cooperative Interstate Shipment program, known as CIS. Congress created it in the 2008 farm bill. 

States that apply to the CIS program have to prove their state inspections are as good as federal inspections. In states that are accepted into the program, state-inspected processors can ship their products across the nation. 

Although the program was created 13 years ago, only eight states currently participate in it. The program is operated by the federal Food Safety and Inspection Service. 

South Dakota State Veterinarian Dustin Oedekoven said the program was slow to catch on because it did not truly recognize the validity of state inspections. State inspectors have to undergo extra training, even though the state has already trained them. And the state pays part of the program costs, even though it's a federal stamp – not a state stamp – that goes on the inspected product. 

“I think it's pretty telling that that legislation went through in 2008, FSIS implemented rules governing the CIS program in 2011, and here we are nearly 10 years later and we just got the seventh state to participate,” Oedekoven said last summer. 

Since then, an eighth state has joined the program, and South Dakota could become the ninth by next fall. Gov. Kristi Noem alluded to the state’s recent application in her December budget address. 

“And we’re also working with USDA to give our farmers and ranchers another option to be able to sell their products across state lines,” Noem said. “These efforts could dramatically improve South Dakota’s meat processing options in the coming months.”    

Meanwhile, members of the state’s congressional delegation are working for greater recognition of state inspection programs. 

Rep. Dusty Johnson has a bill to allow sales of state-inspected meat across the U.S. through e-commerce, with a cap on the quantity of each sale. Sen. Mike Rounds has a bill that goes further. It would fully legalize sales of state-inspected meat around the country. 

Rounds gave a speech on the Senate floor last summer calling the prohibition on interstate sales of state-inspected meat “arbitrary.” 

“Today, if you had meat or poultry processed at a South Dakota-inspected facility in Hudson, South Dakota, you wouldn’t be able to sell it across the border just a few miles away in Iowa,” Rounds said. “But you could sell it several hundred miles away in Lemmon, South Dakota.” 

What seems arbitrary today made a lot of sense in the early 1900s. Oedekoven, the state veterinarian, said the federal government had good reasons for taking over interstate meat inspections in the early 1900s. 

“Certainly at that time, you had some bad dudes in Packertown there in Chicago,” Oedekoven said. “You had company guys that were supposedly doing the inspection, but they were reworking stuff in the basement, all that kind of stuff. So from there, they said, ‘You know, state inspection, city inspection, you guys are not doing what needs to be done. We're going to put this all under the federal government.’” 

Upton Sinclair’s 1906 novel, “The Jungle,” was the catalyst. The book exposed shockingly unsanitary conditions in packing plants. Congress and President Theodore Roosevelt responded to the public outcry with the Federal Meat Inspection Act. It required federal inspection of all meat processing plants shipping products across state lines. 

That system is still in place today. About 30 states have since created their own meat-inspection programs for smaller processors. For decades, those state-inspected processors were not able to ship their products around the country, until Congress created the CIS program. 

The pandemic not only highlighted the inability of state-inspected processors to ship their meat out-of-state, but also highlighted a capacity problem. Even if small meat processors could have shipped their meat outside the state during the pandemic’s early days, many didn’t have any extra meat to sell, because they were quickly overwhelmed by demand. 

Gov. Noem is addressing that problem with a grant program for small meat processors. She previously asked legislators to budget $5 million for it but has since announced the funding will come from leftover federal coronavirus aid. 

“This program is for the small processors that our local producers rely on,” Noem said during her December budget address. “Through this program, processors can apply for a grant to pay for facility upgrades like new freezers or processing equipment, make facility improvements to manage increased capacity, or work to expand their operations.” 

-Contact reporter Seth Tupper by email.

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