WASHINGTON — Representatives Dusty Johnson (R-SD) and Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) laid out their proposed legislation to allow state inspected meat to be sold across state lines through small producers and e-commerce giving processors additional avenues to sell their products to consumers.

The Direct Interstate Retail Exemption for Certain Transactions (DIRECT) Act of 2020 would amend the retail exemption under the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA) and Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA). The amendment would allow processors, butchers or other retailers to sell retail quantities (300 lbs of beef, 100 lbs of pork, 27.5 lbs of lamb) of state-inspected meat online to consumers across state lines.

“As a result of COVID-19, meat processing plants across the country have been forced to close or slow operations and as a result we’ve seen a renaissance in small processors,” Johnson said. “Many states, including South Dakota, have inspection standards that are at least equal to what the federal government requires. This bill cuts through red tape and allows producers, processors and retailers to sell state inspected meat and poultry direct to consumers through online stores across state lines.”

According to Johnson and Cuellar, the DIRECT Act would maintain traceability of sales in the event of a recall. 

“America’s meat industry has been hit hard by financial challenges resulting from the coronavirus pandemic,” Cuellar said. “The bipartisan legislation will open up new markets for meat producers and processors by allowing meat inspected by the state to be sold online and across state lines.

Several state and national industry groups supported the bill, including The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA).

“Over the past few months, more Americans looked to e-commerce to purchase essential goods like beef and an already booming online marketplace further evolved to facilitate purchases and meet consumer demands,” said Marty Smith, president of NCBA. “The American beef supply chain must evolve to keep up with the speed of commerce and the demands of modern-day consumers.”

According to the NCBA, many states like South Dakota and Texas have State Meat and Poultry Inspection (MPI) programs approved by the US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) as “at least equal to” standards set under the FMIA and PPIA. However, under current structures, state-inspected products can only be sold interstate if approved to do so under the Cooperative Interstate Shipping (CIS) Program.

The bill allows states, which operate under the USDA’s CIS Program, to continue shipping under existing conditions. Currently, seven states participate in the CIS program, where state inspectors can approve meat to be sold outside of the state it is processed in. 

Earlier in June, representatives and senators wrote letters to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue asking the agency to lessen regulations on small meat processors.