Agriculture is the economic engine for many communities in the Midwest, North East, and across the Upper Great Plains. Our agricultural producers play a critical role in feeding and fueling our nation, and also in our national security strategy. When we can produce affordable, nutritious food here at home, we don’t have to rely on other countries to obtain it. Unfortunately, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is exposing several vulnerabilities to our nation’s food supply chain.

Today, around 80 percent of the nation’s beef is processed by only four meat packing companies, two of which are foreign owned. In the last few weeks, several of their processing facilities have closed because of COVID-19 outbreaks among their workforce. This highlights a chokepoint in our food supply chain. With fewer processing plants available to accept livestock, our farmers and ranchers have fewer outlets for their product. At the same time, American consumers are seeing shortages of beef, pork and poultry at the grocery store. 

As we look to enhance additional markets for producers and consumers, one is immediately available. The New Markets for State-Inspected Meat and Poultry Act is a bipartisan bill, which would allow meat and poultry products inspected by state Meat and Poultry Inspection (MPI) programs to be sold across state lines. Senators Rounds (R-S.D.) and King (I-Maine) led a bipartisan group of senators to introduce this legislation last year, and now we are urging our congressional leaders to include it in any future economic recovery measures.

This commonsense legislation would allow meat and poultry products that have been inspected by a Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS)-approved state MPI program to be sold across state lines. Right now, there are 27 states with inspection programs certified by FSIS that meet or exceed federal inspection standards. However, only six states are allowed to sell their state- inspected meat and poultry across state lines.

Under federal regulations, state MPI standards must be “at least equal to” federal meat and poultry inspection programs. For example, in South Dakota, state-inspected meat products such as beef and pork are limited to markets within South Dakota, despite being subject to inspections equal to or exceeding federal inspection standards.

This bill would level the playing field for producers of meat and poultry products while maintaining the highest quality standards for consumers. Since the state inspection standards are required by law to be equal to or better than the federal inspection standards, it makes sense to allow products that pass state inspection protocols to be sold across state lines. This legislation will create new markets for producers and processers, give consumers more choices at the grocery store, and continue to maintain the high quality and safety standards necessary to keep consumers healthy.

Farmers and ranchers in South Dakota, Maine, North Dakota, Iowa, Montana, West Virginia, Wyoming, Minnesota, and across the country consistently produce some of the highest-quality products in the world. This legislation opens up new markets for farmers and ranchers and will promote a more competitive meat and poultry processing environment. It will give smaller, state inspected meat and poultry processing facilities the opportunity to compete in markets throughout the United States.

As Congress continues debating ways to provide economic relief while bolstering our nation’s supply chains, we will be seeking to get commonsense ideas such as this included in any potential legislation.

By Senators Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Angus King (I-ME), Mike Rounds (R-SD), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Steve Daines (R-MT), Tina Smith (D-MN), John Barrasso (R-WY), Jon Tester (D-MT), Michael Enzi (R-WY)

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