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W.Va. agriculture secretary supports bill protecting small meat producers

September 19, 2006

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - West Virginia Commissioner of Agriculture Gus R. Douglass is lending his support to "The Agriculture Small Business Opportunity and Enhancement Act of 2006 (S.3519)," designed to put small, state-inspected meat producers on an even footing with larger interstate and international producers by removing a ban on interstate sales of state-inspected meat and poultry.

"For years, state-inspected processors have been prevented from selling their products across state lines, even though state meat inspection programs must be at least as stringent as the federal program," said Douglass. "I see no reason for this antiquated practice to continue. State inspection programs - especially in West Virginia - are every bit as effective as the federal program."

Proponents of the legislation - which include a wide variety of state agricultural officials and industry trade groups - say they are puzzled that the ban has remained in place despite three USDA advisory committees finding that its removal would create jobs and stimulate the rural economy. The same federal law restricts interstate shipment of beef, lamb, pork, goat and poultry, but allows interstate shipments of bison, venison, pheasant, rabbit and quail.

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Twenty-eight states have their own meat and/or poultry inspection program covering nearly 2,000 establishments.

Douglass noted the West Virginia Department of Agriculture's (WVDA) sterling record in ensuring safe practices and products in West Virginia meat processing plants.

"There has never been a recall of any products overseen by the Meat and Poultry Inspection Division (MPID)," he said, "and the program has achieved the highest marks possible the past three times it was reviewed by USDA, the best such record in the country."

MPID provides continuous inspection of commercial slaughter and processing facilities, periodic inspection of custom plants, and has licensed about 180 meat and poultry distributors that are subject to random compliance reviews. Inspectors conduct inspections of live animals and carcasses after slaughter, looking for any suspicious signs. Only totally wholesome carcasses may be offered for sale. Any contamination results in a condemnation of the carcass.

Inspectors also ensure that all rooms, compartments, and equipment in the plant are clean, sanitary, and properly maintained before they allow daily operations to begin. If a deficiency is found, the plant must remedy the problem and request a reinspection before operations can continue.

More information is available at www.nasda.org/interstatemeatshipment.

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