The Indiana State Board of Animal Health is responsible for inspecting meat facilities within the state. Many of these are utilized by local farmers and livestock producers who are just starting or expanding direct-to-consumer sales. It's definitely a hot trend, and many believe it's more than a trend. Even USDA is pushing it, although ulterior motives be involved.
At any rate, the ability to properly process and package meat grown locally for quick sale from local outlets may be in jeopardy. It's all because there may not be enough meat inspectors to go around. If meat is going to be sold, even locally, it must come from an inspected facility.
The issue came to the forefront recently after Bret Marsh, state veterinarian and head of BOAH, announced that Governor Daniels and his staff intend to cut the budget for meat inspection by 50%. That's nearly a million dollar cut of the nearly $2 million the state of Indiana provided for the service.
What's worse, sources say, is that funds that keep meat inspectors busy inside Indiana are matching funds. Federal funds match what the state kicks in dollar for dollar. So the regional budget was nearly $4 million per year. That includes the nearly $2million the state put up for the service, plus two million contributed by the feds. If state funding drops by half, federal funding will drop by two million dollars too.
Marsh clarifies that if all facilities can no longer be inspected, facilities that continue to operate without inspection will be termed custom slaughtering facilities. Meat processed in these facilities must be marked 'not for sale' by law, both in carcass form and after meat is processed. If only these facilities are available in an area, then the change would knock the wind out of the sales of the direct farmer to consumer meat sales movement.
Officially termed the Meat and Poultry Inspection Program, Marsh said steps had already been taken to get the job done with one-third fewer employees than when the program was moved to BOAH in 1996. The number of state-inspected plants increased at the same time.
Unless the funding cuts are suspended, it's possible the entire program could be terminated, sources say. Reduction in funding would become effective on July 1,. 2010.
Not all legislators are taking the news lying down. Richard Young, D, Milltown issued a formal statement last week expressing his concern about the cuts. In fact, he drafted a formal letter to Governor Daniels stressing the importance of the program.
Young is a big believer in economic development, he notes in his letter. He thought progress was being made in the development of local markets. He also believes this change would be a huge blow to that progress.