SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — If a grocery store in Iowa or Minnesota needs meat, then a state-inspected meat locker or small processing plant in South Dakota should be able to provide it, said Dustin Oedekoven, the state veterinarian and executive secretary for the Animal Industry Board.
As of now, the 30 state-inspected meat lockers and small processors in South Dakota can’t sell products across state lines. A bill introduced by U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., aims to change that.
Oedekoven said the change is a logical and sensible one for the coronavirus pandemic and for the future. State inspected meat products go through an inspection process that is equal to the federal inspection process, he said.
“We have an inspected plant in Renner. And Renner could process meat under inspection and they could package that up and it could be shipped all the way out to Rapid City or up to Lemmon and that would be OK. But they can’t go to the neighboring towns of Luverne, Minnesota, or Rock Rapids, Iowa,” Oedekoven said.
A law in place since 1968 prevents state inspected meat lockers and processors from selling across state lines.
Some smaller lockers and processors have chosen to be federally inspected, which allows them to sell across state lines, Oedekoven said.
But most meat lockers and small processors in the state are state inspected, he said. The state has 30 of those businesses.
“We think that would have tremendous impact to small businesses in our state,” Oedekoven said of allowing those 30 businesses to sell outside of South Dakota.
These plants aren’t in competition with large processors and the logic isn’t there to restrict their sales, he said.
A change would also have a more immediate impact during the pandemic, Oedekoven said.
While state-inspected lockers and processors are busy with meat that hasn’t been shipped to larger processors such as Smithfield because of COVID-19 slowdowns and shutdowns, he knows some are willing to take on more work, Oedekoven said.
“Small plants are very busy,” Oedekoven said. “Small processors have really stepped up in the state.”
The AIB also does monthly inspections of 60 custom-exempt plants and processors who take meat from the producer and process it for the producer and not for sale to anyone else.
The 60 exempt plants may also be poised to expand services, Oedekoven said. Some are capable of adding state inspected slaughter days and have already done so.
If the lockers and processors can process more beef and pork and then sell it outside of South Dakota, that can help producers, the small businesses and the retailer and wholesaler outside of the state, Oedekoven said.
The increased work at state inspected sites has also increased the workload for state inspectors.
Oedekoven said the state’s 21 inspectors are spread thin but they are adjusting to meet the need. An inspector follows the slaughter process from the live animal through the packaging end.
“It has been a challenge,” Oedekoven said. “But we’ve been able to keep up.”
Oedekoven said there are concerns on allowing state products to be sold outside the state.
One concern is how that could impact the export market.
Although South Dakota products are appropriate for the export market, he doesn’t want the product to have a negative impact the export market, Oedekoven said.
“I don’t think those are issues that can’t be dealt with,” Oedekoven said.
Also, there are concerns about how any potential recall process would be handled, he said. But that too, can be resolved.
State and national officials have been working on the topic since at least the late 1990s, he said.
But COVID-19 may have created the best opportunity to change the system, Oedekoven said.
Another bill related to meat processing introduced in Washington, D.C. is from Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D. Johnson’s bill would have the the federal government pay two-thirds of the overtime costs for federal inspections. The bill would cover meat lockers and small processors that use federal inspections, Oedekoven said. Federal inspectors do not charge for regular time, just for overtime, Oedekoven said.
The state does not charge for state inspections even if there is overtime, Oedekoven said.