Sen. Tyson Larson of O'Neill’s measure would move Nebraska toward a state program, once state officials assess its cost and how well it would survive.
Nebraska meat processors have found it increasingly difficult in recent years to get their meats inspected and federally approved for sale, Larson said. He added his bill would benefit companies that process bison, elk, ostrich and other niche meats. At present, 27 states already run their own inspections, Larson said. Only one of the six states that border Nebraska has no state program, Colorado.
"Nebraska's lack of a state meat inspection agency puts our rural agricultural producers at an extreme disadvantage compared to their counterparts in neighboring states," Larson said. describing the inspections as "crucial to Nebraska's agricultural community."
Current law already allows producers to ship their products out of state with federal approval, said Wilber Sen. Russ Karpisek, who owned a meat market for 20 years. But Ellsworth Sen. LeRoy Louden added the number of federal inspectors in his western Nebraska district has dwindled because many small packing plants have closed.
"We've lost all of that," Louden said. The state inspection program "is something that gives a chance to add value to the meat and poultry we have here in Nebraska."
An earlier version of the bill would have created an agency within the Department of Agriculture by Jan. 1, 2013, to inspect meat products for human consumption. The program would require an initial $200,000 from a state commercial feed administration fund, and would then subsist on inspection fees. Larson introduced a rewritten version to authorize a study that would outline how the program would unfold, what meats would qualify, proposed fees and a layout of the resources needed to keep it running. The Director of Agriculture would report to the Legislature by Nov. 15.
Nebraska lawmakers voted 35-1 to advance the measure through the first of three readings before it goes to Gov. Dave Heineman.