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Currently, in Washington, meat sold to consumers must be butchered and processed in a USDA facility. Senate Bill 5045 would create a state-run meat and poultry inspection program with requirements equal to those imposed through USDA.

The bill came about after COVID-19 caused supply chain disruptions, and demand for locally sourced beef from consumers resulted in small processors in the state having a backlog of several months.

The bill is cosponsored by Sens. Judy Warnick (R-13-Moses Lake), Liz Lovelett (D-40-Anacortes), June Robinson (D-38-Everett), Christine Rolfes (D-23-Poulsbo), Mark Schoesler (R-9-Pullman), Shelley Short (R-7-Colville) and Kevin Van De Wege (D-24-Port Angeles).

“Support for the small meat processors provides multiple benefits for the greater public good including continuity of food supply and resilience in the face of supply chain disruptions, consumer food safety and public health, animal health and welfare, and increased economic growth opportunities for both meat processor small businesses, skilled workforce, and livestock producers,” the bill reads.

While there are approximately 140 USDA facilities in Washington, there are only 11 establishments approved to accept poultry and livestock for slaughter and processing interstate as stipulated by USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

Custom meat facilities are licensed facilities that process uninspected meat, or meat absent a USDA inspection, for the owner’s sole consumption despite being held to the federal standards for processing.

The bill instructs the USDA to enter into “a cooperative agreement” with the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) to operate a state inspection program. The bill also instructs the WSDA to create a meat and poultry processing and marketing assistance program. The program would assist small and midsize farms and processors to explore “options to expand capacity for processing meat or meat and poultry for sale and direct marketing efforts.” It also assists in developing infrastructure, including slaughter facilities with both the WSDA and USDA, in increasing direct marketing opportunities for farms.

The bill would develop with Washington State Extension training opportunities or apprenticeship opportunities for slaughterers or inspectors to expand processing. The bill would also reduce farms’ barriers to market directly to consumers as well as processors in operating slaughter facilities.

According to the Columbia Basin Herald, Laura Raymond, regional markets program manager at WSDA, said small-scale meat processors were struggling to keep up with demands and Senate Bill 5045 considers challenges faced by these processors and producers.

“Local ranchers and farmers are reaching out to us, beginning as early as March, to say that they could not find local processors with space to take their hogs, cattle, sheep and sometimes poultry,” Raymond said at the virtual hearing on the bill.

Jamie Henneman, media relations spokesperson for the Stevens County Cattlemen Association (SCCA), told WLJ in an email that the organization supports creating a state-inspected program that will allow producers to sell cuts of meat both within Washington and interstate. Henneman stated consumers would benefit from the increase of Washington beef and they can be sure “the product was raised to the highest standards and is of the best quality.”

“Over the last several years, more of our members have started selling their beef direct to consumers and have relied on USDA and state-inspected meat processing facilities in order to do so,” SCCA member Beau Henneman said at the hearing. “However, a common challenge is being able to access the USDA shops that are few in number and often very busy. Beef producers need access to the USDA shops to sell their beef in cuts like steaks or roasts. At present, this USDA stamp is the only way producers can market to places like restaurants, grocery stores and farmers’ markets.”

SCCA supports the bill and looks forward to seeing it develop into a meat processing option in Washington.

Raymond said before establishing a state inspection program, infrastructure and technical assistance are some of the many needs that must be considered. An analysis regarding expenditures for Washington State University, the state conservation commissions and WSDA would be slightly above $5 million, including salaries, establishing a grant program, and assist processors with federal, state and local compliance for the first two years of the program. — Charles Wallace, WLJ editor

 

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