USDA: Run For The Border

Buckeye Farm Beat

Some small Ohio meat processors already getting a big boost from the USDA and state’s new Cooperative Interstate Shipment Program.

Published on: April 2, 2013

Before last August, you could not ship state-inspected meat across the state border. You could ship federally inspected meat, but not meat that was inspected by the Ohio Department of Agriculture and certified with inspections that were “equal to” federal inspection. You could and can ship fruits and vegetables over the border. You can truck state-approved dairy or grain or honey or maple syrup or about any commodity. However, until an Act of Congress was fully enacted Aug. 8 of 2011, you could not ship state-inspected meat across any state border.

This has been a bone of contention for Ohio processors for many years. If you have a plant in Cincinnati, why can’t you sell product 20 miles away in Indiana? Same goes for Youngstown, Toledo, Gallipolis, Van Wert, St. Clairsville or you name it? Never mind that the inspectors for the Food Safety Inspection Service of USDA were doing inspection “equal to” our Ohio state inspectors.

ODA SALUTE: David Daniels, director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture, left, present Aden Troyer with a proclamation thanking him for the economic activity he has generated at Pleasant Valley Poultry.
ODA SALUTE: David Daniels, director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture, left, present Aden Troyer with a proclamation thanking him for the economic activity he has generated at Pleasant Valley Poultry.

Fred Dailey, former ODA director, went to bat for the industry with testimony in Congress around 1995. In 1997 with no solution pending, Dailey field a law suit against the USDA demanding equal treatment for state-inspected meat. In it he noted that foreign meat could be inspected at the national border and legally flows across state lines while state-inspected meat could not. Under his leadership the National Association of State Directors of Agriculture joined in the fight. However, after more than a year of review, a federal judge dismissed the case on a technicality.

SUCCESS SIGN: More than 900 customers made their way through the winding roads of the Amish countryside near Baltic to bring poultry of all kinds for processing at Pleasant Valley.
SUCCESS SIGN: More than 900 customers made their way through the winding roads of the Amish countryside near Baltic to bring poultry of all kinds for processing at Pleasant Valley.

Somehow word of the battle got to Ohio representatives and senators. With the help of several Ohio lawmakers including Rep. Marcy Kaptur the 2008 Farm Bill included a Congressional directive to develop rules that would enable selected facilities to be inspected for nationwide distribution of meat. Four years later, after the rules were written and reviewed and comments were heard; USDA announced the new regulation was in place effective July 1, 2011. Only plants with less than 25 employees could apply for the inspection which is now labeled as “same as” FSIS instead of “equal to” FSIS.

The rules required a state to notify the USDA of its interest in the program. Jim Zehringer, former director, did so in September 2011. After completing the FSIS requirements, including training for “same as” USDA meat inspection certification, ODA announced on Aug. 8, 2012, that Ohio facilities could apply to be part of Ohio’s Cooperative Interstate Shipment Program.

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“Initially we had 30 plants ask for applications,” reports Dr. Mike Hockman, chief of the Division of Meat Inspection, at ODA. Of those 15 returned the form and 7 have been approved for interstate shipping. They are an interesting group, according to Hockman, who has helped to shepherd the option since he became an assistant chief in 1997. No doubt his 30 plus years working as a veterinarian and a recruiter for the FSIS gave him some valuable understanding of the system.

“I see great opportunities for this program,” Hockman says. “Already we have three more plants interested in shipping to Kentucky and West Virginia.”

The first Ohio business to put the new law into action was Pleasant Valley Poultry in Baltic. Successful businesses build on opportunity. A couple of developments have made a prime opportunity for Aden and Wilma Troyer the Amish owners of Pleasant Valley Poultry. First, there are some people who really want to raise their own chickens to eat. Or else they are convinced that buying from a local producer at a farmer’s market is a better way to feed the family.

Either way someone is needed to process the birds in a humane, clean, healthy, inspected, efficient manner. The opportunity to provide a custom processing business was clear especially to the Troyers who hung out their shingle in 2009. Now 4 years later they have 900 customers and have expanded the building twice already meet the demand. They currently have capacity to process 1,000 birds a day.

Customers come from as far away as Illinois, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Kentucky to have birds processed. Other Ohio companies participating in the interstate program make Italian sausage, smoked sausage snacks, soups and meat-filled ravioli.

Thanks to Hockman and other pioneers who pushed this plan, Ohio was the first state to roll it out. No doubt gives the early adopters an up on the competition, which is not far behind. Ohio has already been joined in an interstate market by Wisconsin and North Dakota. Not to worry, however, the local market trend is becoming more regional. Find something that fits and there is business enough for all.