JUDITH BASIN COUNTY — A new cooperative interstate shipment agreement meant to help meat processors in Montana will do just that, but this is really just a small step in the bigger effort to create more competition in the marketplace.
Meat processed at state-inspected meat processing facilities in Montana can now be shipped out of state, and it's an opportunity that has been more than a decade in the making.
“(U.S. Senator Jon) Tester got it put in to the 2008 Farm Bill to allow state-inspected plants to apply and qualify to ship their meat across state lines,” said Walter Schweitzer, Montana Farmers Union president.
Montana is the tenth state to take advantage of the opportunity. The other nine states with similar CIS agreements include Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Ohio, Vermont, and Wisconsin.
Schweitzer said there are around 20 plants that can benefit from this, but they still won't be able to compete with what he calls the corporate meat processing monopolies.
"What will happen is these corporate monopolies will undermine them on prices because they can sell cheaper in one area and make up the difference in another area. So we just need to force them to play fairly,” Schweitzer explained.
That may have been a moot point, however, if the initial state legislation introduced by Senator Kenneth Bogner regarding the shipping agreement was passed.
"He was on the right track. He knew there was this problem and he was trying to fix it. But the bill he had originally introduced would've put our USDA-inspected and our state-inspected plants at risk because the USDA FSIS, Federal safety Inspection Services, would have canceled our inspection grants of inspection and threatened to do so,” said Schweitzer.
Schweitzer said he e-mailed Bogner, pointing out the problem, and the legislation was eventually changed.
"Our state legislators, they're our neighbors and they realize agriculture is our number one industry in the state of Montana. Montana farmers Union, we're the largest and oldest farm organization that represents family farmers so when we bring up an idea they listen,” said Schweitzer.
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