Door opens for Ohio meatpackers: Federal program lets state-inspected shops ship beyond borders

By  Mary Vanac
The Columbus Dispatch
August 25, 2012

Indiana, Pennsylvania and Kentucky are Ohio’s neighbors, but to some Ohio meat processors, they were a world away because the processors weren’t allowed to sell to customers there.

However, a new program has allowed them to access markets beyond state borders for the first time.

The Cooperative Interstate Shipment Program went into effect this month. Before August, only local meat inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture could be sold outside Ohio.

There are 160 federally inspected slaughterhouses and processors in Ohio, according to the USDA.

But under the new program, small, state-inspected meat processors that match federal standards and are cleared by the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service can sell their products outside their home states.

Because Ohio has the most state-inspected meat facilities of any state — 279 — it is likely the program will have the biggest impact here.

“It’s going to have a positive effect on our processors,” said Yvonne Lesicko, senior director of legislative and regulatory policy for the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation.

“We have a lot of small meat processors … that can grow by having this new opportunity,” Lesicko said.

Small processors near Ohio’s borders likely will be the first to use the program, she said. Next might come producers whose products have mass appeal.

“This is opening up a tremendous opportunity for small producers,” said Bob Ehart, senior policy and science adviser for the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture.

Great Lakes Smoked Meats in Lorain is among the first companies to participate in the new program in Ohio. The maker of smokies and wieners, as well as kielbasa, chorizo and andouille sausages, has been waiting for months for the program to begin.

A grocery-store chain outside Philadelphia has wanted to buy smokies from Great Lakes for years, but the Ohio-inspected processor wasn’t allowed to ship to Pennsylvania. Now, the Lorain company expects to begin shipping its smoked meat sticks to the chain’s 300 stores in more than 30 states, said Kim Kordeleski-Gonzalez, office manager of the nine-employee meat processor.

“ We are ready to go,” she said.Why didn’t Great Lakes go the federal inspection route rather than wait for years for the so-called interstate meat rule to take effect?

“The federal requirements are so high for small companies,” Kordeleski-Gonzalez said. And Great Lakes wanted to keep the daily, personalized attention from its state meat inspector.

The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation and several other groups have been working on getting the rule passed for years.

For some meat processors, the rule addresses a fairness issue. Many Ohio consumers buy meat from other countries inspected by the foreign equivalent of a state inspector.

Yet, state-inspected processors in the United States were prohibited from selling to consumers in neighboring states.

“If you do a good job and you have a good product, you should be able to sell your product anywhere,” said John Grimes, an Ohio State University Extension beef coordinator and associate professor.

Farmers who produce specialty meats, such as bison or grass-fed beef, also can benefit from the new rule.

“Say I’m a cattle producer, and I raise the equivalent of USDA-certified Angus beef, or an organic or all-natural product. The new rule gives me access to millions more people,” Grimes said.

In addition, “a local packing house can give you more attention to detail, allow for keeping your brand identity,” said Grimes, who raises Angus breeding stock.

Large, federally inspected processing plants often rely on volume to drive their cost-efficiencies, so small, state-inspected processors can be more affordable for small producers, Grimes said.