Three days of negotiations last week in Washington D.C.; ten drafts of the legislation; and countless consultations with the Senate Agriculture Committee leadership led to an agreement between consumer, labor and agriculture groups on a program that will allow the interstate sale and shipment of meat and poultry products.
"The compromise creates a new, optional program within federal law that provides federal oversight of state-inspected facilities that want to ship products across state lines," says Roger Johnson, North Dakota Commissioner of Agriculture and current President of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture.
Under the compromise, processors with up to 25 employees will be eligible to participate in the program, and will continue to maintain their current cooperative agreements with the federal government which require state programs to be at least equal to federal requirements.
"It has taken many years to reach this compromise and I am pleased smaller producers will finally have the opportunity to compete on a level playing field. For too long, small producers have been shut out of markets but will now be able to ship their high-quality products across state lines," National Farmers Union President Tom Buis said.
Johnson, Buis and Carol Tucker Foreman of the Consumer Federation of American were the main negotiators in last week's three-day session at NFU's Washington Headquarters.
"This bill safeguards public health by continuing the requirement that all products shipped in interstate commerce are subject to the federal meat and poultry inspection acts. Tough safety standards protect those who produce food as well as those who consume it," says Foreman.
Although each side had to give in on different issues, Johnson says it's an important breakthrough. "It's good for state inspection, good for small processors and good for consumers," he says. "This is definitely a step in the right direction."
Companies that participate in the new program will be required to use a Federal mark and there will be additional oversight from a state coordinator, a new Federal position that is being created in the legislation.
Now the legislation goes into the mix of the Senate Farm Bill. A similar proposal, introduced by Representatives Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., was included in the House-passed version of the Farm Bill.
To see a comprehensive breakdown of the agreement, click HERE.