DIRECT Act recently introduced in the U.S. House
Many states in the U.S. have federally-approved State Meat and Poultry Inspection (MPI) programs under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service, allowing them to sell product across state lines.
However, under this existing framework, state-inspected facilities can only sell their products interstate if they are approved to do so under the Cooperative Interstate Shipping (CIS) Program, which is also facilitated under USDA.
In the last week of January, small state-inspected facilities received some good news when the Direct Interstate Retail Exemption for Certain Transactions (DIRECT) Act was re-introduced in the U.S. House.
During a recent National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) Beltway Beef podcast, NCBA’s Director of Government Affairs and Market Regulatory Policy Tanner Beymer sat down with Jake Feddes of Feddes Family Meats in Manhattan, Mont., to discuss and praise the DIRECT Act.
Selling across state lines
“The DIRECT Act was originally introduced in the last Congress, but it has been reintroduced into the 117thCongress by U.S. Reps. Dusty Johnson (R-SD) and Henry Cuellar (D-TX),” notes Beymer. “Basically, this legislation will amend the MPI Act to allow processors, butchers or other sellers to sell state-inspected retail quantities of beef to consumers across state lines, so long as the transaction was facilitated over the internet.”
Beymer explains retail quantities translate to 300 pounds, which equals roughly a quarter of a large beef.
“Ultimately, what we are trying to do with this legislation is allow some small processors who played a critical role in keeping the supply chain moving throughout the COVID-19 crisis a little relief,” Beymer says.
He notes some opportunities currently exist for states to ship their state-inspected products into out-of-state markets, but it requires participation in CIS, which is administered through USDA.
“This program was initiated decades ago and it no longer meets the needs of what a lot of state-inspected facilities need,” says Beymer. “This is why NCBA is so dedicated to the DIRECT Act. We want to allow small state-inspected facilities to access interstate markets through ecommerce and thus, focus more on production rather than selling product.”
Expanding the market
Feddes points out the DIRECT Act would help expand the beef market substantially.
“At Feddes Family Meats, we get about 10 to 15 messages a week asking if our state-inspected small meat processing facility can ship across state lines,” he explains. “Of course, I have to turn them down because of the MPI Act. But, there is big demand out there.”
Due to current Montana state-processing standards, Feddes notes his family’s company follows regulations equal to or greater than those used by USDA for federal-inspected facilities. This is where a large majority of many small processers’ frustration stems from.
While Beymer notes the DIRECT Act would help with this issue, he also reminds individuals it is not intended to be a silver bullet solution.
“In the next few weeks, we are anticipating more legislation to be introduced, dealing with expanding opportunities for small beef processors – whether they are state or federally inspected – and increasing beef processing capacity, which has been a very real issue for a long time,” states Beymer.
He continues, “Additionally, NCBA is very supportive of the Requiring Assistance to Meat Processors for Upgrading Plants (RAMP-UP) Act, which would provide federal dollars to state-inspected facilities to offset the cost of becoming federally-inspected and thus open them up to interstate commerce. The RAMP-UP Act also commissioned a study to look at the CIS Program and find ways to make improvements.”
Beymer notes the RAMP-UP Act was passed by Congress and signed by the president in December as part of the last COVID-19 relief bill.
“NCBA is working very diligently with USDA to make sure the program gets up and running and so we can get resources on the ground where they are so desperately needed,” he says.
“We are expecting a lot of helpful pieces of legislation to be reintroduced in the first few months of our new Congress, and we could potentially see them all bundled together,” he continues. “The DIRECT Act is the first domino to set off the chain reaction, and we are excited about the opportunities that lie ahead of us.”
Hannah Bugas is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.