Roger Johnson, the president of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, and National Farmers Union Tom Buis held a press conference in Washington Wednesday to strongly support legislation that would allow interstate shipment of meat from state inspected processing plants.
"It's fundamentally unfair that imported meat and poultry products from 38 foreign countries can be sold and shipped anywhere in the United States, but state inspected plants can't ship across state lines," Johnson says.
An outdated law prevents state inspected meat from being sold across state lines even though they must meet or exceed federal inspection standards. Other food commodities inspected by state authorities are allowed to be freely marketed across state lines.
The Consumer Federation of America and the American Federation of Government Employees are speaking out against the legislation, claiming that state inspections are weaker than federal inspections.
"That is simply not true," says Tom Buis, president of the National Farmers Union. "None of us would ever do anything to jeopardize the safety of our food, our consumers, or our farmers. We would do nothing to erode their confidence; in fact we want to continue to move forward in a lot of different ways to address food safety."
Buis says the legislation will level the playing field for small farms and businesses while increasing standard safety measures for American consumers. Many of the state inspected plants are family owned businesses that are striving to meet the shift in consumers' preferences and provide the kind of products they want and demand.
"This is not a food safety issue," Johnson says. "This is about giving small companies the same economic opportunities that larger companies and foreign companies enjoy in the U.S marketplace."
The measure was included in the House-passed version of the farm bill, and may be included in the Senate version, which is expected to begin being marked up this week. Whether or not it is included in the Senate version, the issue will definitely come up in conference.
Johnson says meetings are being scheduled with the Senate Agriculture Committee and other key members.
"It's time to get this done," Johnson says. "American consumers deserve access to safe, nutritious products from state inspected meat processors, and livestock producers, processors and small businesses deserve to compete in the national marketplace. It's just common sense and it's the right thing to do."