WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service is holding two public meetings regarding a new program under which state-inspected establishments with 25 or fewer employees will be eligible to ship meat and poultry products in interstate commerce, announced Kathleen Merrigan, Agriculture Deputy Secretary.

Implementing a directive of the 2008 Farm Bill, the announcement is one component of U.S.D.A.'s "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" initiative to help develop local and regional food systems and spur economic opportunity, F.S.I.S. relays.

"Restoring the link between consumers and local producers will not only open new income opportunities for small farmers and generate wealth that will stay in rural communities, it will also expand access to healthy, fresh, and locally produced food," Ms. Merrigan said. "These meetings will help ensure the proposed regulations successfully open doors for small meat and poultry establishments to provide safe products to their communities."

The meetings are to be held by teleconference and will provide the public with an opportunity to comment on the proposed rule published on Sept. 15, U.S.D.A. relays. The first teleconference will be held on Oct. 27 from 12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. EDT; the second will be held on Nov. 5 from 12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. EST.

Pre-registration is required to participate. Information about the meetings, including how to register and the agenda, will be made available for viewing on the

FSIS web site. Call-in information will be provided via e-mail to pre-registered participants.

Comments on this voluntary cooperative program may also be submitted on or before Nov. 16, using either the

Federal eRulemaking Portal or by mail. Send any mail to Docket Clerk, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service, Room 2-2127 George Washington Carver Center, 5601 Sunnyside Ave., Beltsville, MD 20705, MAILSTOP 5272.

All comments must identify F.S.I.S. and the docket number FSIS-2008-0027. Comments will be available for viewing online at