Tester: Cut Cattle Market Red Tape, Allow Interstate Meat Sales

First plank of Senator’s Rancher Relief Plan is call to open interstate sale of meat processed at state facilities; Senator’s legislation would reduce backlogs at processing plants, diversify market, provide price stability

As Montana ranchers have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, U.S. Senator Jon Tester today released the first plank of his Rancher Relief Plan, calling on Senate leadership to include his legislation, the bipartisan New Markets for State-Inspected Meat and Poultry Act in the next coronavirus relief package.

The New Markets for State-Inspected Meat and Poultry Act would allow meat and poultry products inspected by Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) approved state Meat and Poultry Inspection (MPI) programs to be sold across state lines. This would allow Montana ranchers to make better use of state facilities to sell their product, reducing backlogs as hard-hit packing plants get back up and running as well as diversifying and providing stability to the cattle market.

“FSIS and state program directors agree, products processed at state-inspected facilities are already ‘at least equal to’ federal inspection, or they wouldn’t allow the products to be sold at all,” wrote Tester and eight of his colleagues. “Nor would they allow the inspectors of those products to be utilized by federal inspections. It is time to end this arbitrary regulation restricting the sale of these products within state lines and allow facilities inspected by MPI programs to increase production and sell their product nationwide. Including the New Markets for State Inspected Meat and Poultry Act in future COVID-19 relief legislation is good for producers and consumers.”

State-inspected meat and poultry facilities are required by FSIS to be at least equal to federally inspected processing facilities. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 27 states currently operate MPI programs. Products inspected by state MPI programs are already sold for public consumption, however, they are restricted for sale within the state of inspection.

“It only makes common sense that Montana’s state inspected facilities are allowed to sell across state lines,” said Walt Schweitzer, President of Montana Farmers Union. “They are inspected to the same standard as the USDA plants. It makes no sense that a meat packing plant in Brazil or Africa can sell meat across America but a plant in Montana inspected to the same standard or higher cannot.

Tester’s Rancher Relief Plan includes initiatives to help provide certainty to Montana’s small and medium sized cow calf operators. These bipartisan initiatives include:

  1. Increasing interstate commerce and diversifying meat production in Montana and neighboring states;
  2. Legislation to ensure fair prices at the farm gate from large packers;
  3. And the first bipartisan Senate push for mandatory Country of Origin Labeling since Congress repealed it in 2015.

Tester is the Senate’s only working farmer. In recent weeks, has led the fight to provide certainty for Montana ranchers in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. Late last month, Tester demanded that Attorney General William Barr, in coordination with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, open an investigation into reports of price fixing in the cattle market in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Additionally, after Montana’s ranchers recently saw the steepest price decline for cattle in forty years, Tester pushed Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to take immediate action to stabilize beef markets.

Senator Tester has been an outspoken critic of Brazilian beef imports after reports that the country was exporting rotten beef and attempting to cover it up with cancer-causing acid products in 2017. Tester led a bipartisan group of 13 of his colleagues in sending a letter to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue requesting that the agency reevaluate the decision to lift the Brazilian beef import ban, which was implemented in 2017.

Read Tester’s full letter HERE.

Visit tester.senate.gov/coronavirusresources for a list of resources for Montanans during the COVID-19 outbreak.