Congress is being urged to take prompt action on bipartisan legislation introduced last week that would allow interstate sales of state-inspected meat and poultry products. H.R. 6130, the New Markets for State-Inspected Meat and Poultry Act, was introduced by House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (MO) and 13 original cosponsors.

State agriculture officials represented by the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) say the legislation will resolve a basic inequity which has existed since 1967. Removing the current ban on interstate sales will level the economic playing field for small business, spur more competition in the marketplace, and create a more uniform inspection system. NASDA is also leading a national grassroots campaign to support passage of the bill.

"Allowing interstate meat sales is just plain common sense," says Rick Kirchhoff, NASDA executive vice president and CEO. "No other food commodities inspected by state authorities are prohibited from being shipped across state lines."

Three USDA advisory committees have recommended that the outdated ban on interstate sales of state inspected meat be removed because it would create jobs and stimulate rural economic development.

The 1967 and 1968 Meat and Poultry Acts prohibit state-inspected products (beef, poultry, pork, lamb, and goat) from being sold in interstate commerce, even though they must equal or exceed federal inspection standards. However, the prohibition does not apply to "non-amenable" products such as venison, pheasant, quail, rabbit, and a host of others. These products are normally regulated by state inspection programs, yet can be shipped in interstate commerce without restriction.

Kirchhoff notes that it does not make sense to allow these products to be shipped across state borders while beef, poultry, pork, lamb and goat products cannot be shipped interstate.

State and local agriculture officials say the legislation would ensure fairness in trade. Foreign-produced meat and poultry products can be freely shipped and sold anywhere in the U.S. as long as that foreign country's inspection program is equivalent to U.S. federal standards. In practice these are the same standards which state meat inspection programs must meet.

"This is unfair and wrong," says Kirchhoff. "Do 34 foreign countries that are currently eligible to export meat to the U.S. have better inspection programs than we do? H.R. 6130 just makes sense and would provide small businesses in the U.S. with the same marketing opportunities given to companies in foreign countries."
-- Clint Peck