Last summer, the Deputy Secretary of Agriculture announced the start of a new program allowing some plants operating under state inspection to sell their meat and poultry products across states lines. So far, three states with state inspection – Ohio, Wisconsin and North Dakota – signed up; Indiana is looking into it.

For approximately 40 years, state-inspected plants have wanted to sell across state lines. The Cooperative Interstate Shipment Inspection Program (CIS) is a compromise to get the ball rolling. Andrea Grondahl, DVM, who heads North Dakota’s state inspection program, says the goal for most states is to have their “equal to” US Dept. of Agriculture inspection recognized and have the interstate shipment ban lifted. The program requires states to have “same as” USDA inspection. “But the differences are procedural and not related to food safety,” she notes.

There are differences. Traditional state inspection uses a state inspection mark, while CIS puts a federal mark on products. The state inspectors are trained by USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service and enforce federal regulations, rather than state ones. Longtime opponents agreed to this new plan, only if there was heavy federal involvement. Dr. Michael Hockman, head of Ohio’s state inspection program, says of 212 state-inspected plants, seven are participating; and three more plants have applied.

Grondahl says it is too early to say how the program will do. “One weakness here is it operates under the oversight of USDA and the North Dakota front-line supervisor, who don’t have backgrounds in state programs,” she says.

While only one plant is operating, located in Wyndmere, five other state plants are interested in getting involved, including three new meat plants in the state. “We did it here because we have state plants wanting to work with state officials – and this is the only way they could do it and ship across the state line.”

Ohio’s interest in the program dates back to the time former Agriculture Director Fred Dailey sued USDA over interstate shipment, and testified in favor of it when he headed the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA). Hockman speculates more states haven’t applied because nine of the 27 states operate under the Talmadge Aiken program, where state inspectors already carry out federal inspection activities, allowing those plants to ship across state lines. “So that would take away some of the interest,” he says.

The bottom line

“The bottom line here in Ohio is about increasing business opportunities and jobs. While my job is not food marketing, but food safety, this program is a way of doing that,” Hockman says. He believes there are a number of other interested establishments, but they are waiting to see how the first plants do. “Time will certainly tell, but we believe it was the right decision to set up this program,” he says.

Cindy Klug heads state meat inspection in Wisconsin, one of the largest state programs. Eight plants would like to get on board with CIS as soon as possible. She expects over the next three to five years that 30 of the 300 state-inspected plants will become part of it. Right now, one plant that’s applied has been accepted. “Industry asked us to apply for this program,” Klug says. “The overall consensus was the CIS program would provide another marketing opportunity for the specialty products our establishments produce.”

Some plants did not really want to be part of CIS, but producers bringing their animals to plants to be harvested requested it so they could take their finished product across state lines for sale. Klug feels the program will grow.

“It gives plants the opportunity to explore other markets and tap into a consumer audience that’s heard of Wisconsin products. For plants not sure yet, it’s a voluntary program that won’t affect their inspected operations if they don’t want it to,” she says.

Bernard Shire, based in Lancaster, Pa., is a contributing editor and M&P’s Washington correspondent. Shire also works as a food safety consultant for Shire & Associates LLC.