State meat inspection program continues to grow in North Dakota

US - What began as an economic development effort at the urging of the state's livestock producers, the North Dakota state meat inspection program has really blossomed, allowing more plants to sell directly to in-state consumers.
calendar icon 6 July 2007
clock icon 3 minute read
Now, proponents of the program want to revise federal standards which would allow state-inspected meat to be treated on an equal basis with imported meat which is free to cross state lines for interstate commerce.

At the urging of North Dakota Ag Commissioner Roger Johnson, the state meat inspection program was created during the 1999 legislative session. The action provided state agency authority for meat processing, which set up a system that allowed plants under, state inspection, to sell meat and meat products directly to the public, in both wholesale and retail settings.

“It really started out as an economic development effort and has just grown from there,” Johnson said.

Two plants initially joined the program in 2000 and during the second year that number swelled to 10 plants. The last plant to join the list, which now numbers 13, was Maple Valley Locker in Enderlin, N.D. And, according to owner Kevin Hartl, it was a good move, not only for his business, but also for the livestock producers and consumers in the region.

“This is the way the meat industry is moving,” Hartl noted. “When we were a custom exempt plant our retail sales were very restricted and any wholesale movement was entirely eliminated. Becoming an official state slaughter plant has opened more doors for us.”

The custom exempt status Hartl refers to was how any locker plant in the state was designated, if it wasn't under federal inspection. As a custom exempt plant, the facility could only slaughter and process meat for the owner of an animal. The meat, or any products from that meat, could not be sold to the public.

If a person wanted to purchase meat from a locally raised animal, they would first have to purchase ownership from the livestock producer and then, being the new owner, the custom exempt plant could then slaughter and process the meat for the new owner. There are currently 92 custom exempt plants in the state, according to the N.D. Department of Agriculture web page.

The state meat inspection program allows for two types of plants, Johnson noted. The first is is an official state processing facility, where meat is processed into different products, but no slaughter is done in the plant. The second is an official state slaughter establishment, which allows the slaughter of animals as well as processing the meat.

Maple Valley Lockers

With the close proximity to the Fargo-Moorhead metro area, a large and growing portion of Hartl's business comes from urban consumers. And as that market grows, there is an increasing desire to know where the beef he is selling comes from.

“The question I am asked most is not how much the meat costs, but was the meat locally grown,” Hartl noted. “Customers more and more are wanting to know where their meat is coming from, and they prefer locally raised products. We also hear many comments regarding the high quality of meat that comes from our plant.”

Source: Minnesota Farm Guide
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