AUGUSTA – Maine’s meat farmers and processors, along with the state Department of Agriculture, are pressuring Congress to pass a bill that would remove the ban on interstate sales of state-processed meat.
“This would be a huge step in the right direction,” Seth Bradstreet, Maine’s agriculture commissioner, said Monday. “This should have been done a long time ago.”
The ban has been in place since 1967 and has severely limited economic opportunities for Maine farmers.
Lifting the ban would funnel a great deal of money to Maine’s processing industry, Bradstreet said, along with creating new jobs.
“This will level the economic playing field for Maine’s small producers,” Bradstreet said.
H.R. 6130 is bipartisan legislation supported by the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture and three U.S. Department of Agriculture advisory committees.
NASDA points out that foreign-produced meat from 34 countries can be shipped freely and sold anywhere in the country, without guarantees that the countries’ inspection programs are equivalent to U.S. standards.
Local beef producers said this week that they would be able to dramatically ramp up their production by seeking out-of-state contracts, while sheep and goat producers could make a move on the Boston and New York ethnic markets.
Currently, beef and other meats headed to out-of-state markets must either be processed by Maine’s few federally inspected slaughter facilities or be processed in Pennsylvania or Massachusetts and the meat returned to Maine.
Bradstreet said that although Maine’s six state-inspected facilities may need infrastructure expansions to handle the increased business, Maine’s producers would welcome the opportunity to sell their meat across the borders.
By shifting the processing to Maine, local facilities would see a huge rise in business and the number of employees required. “It would be an incredible boost to our rural economy,” Bradstreet said. “This has enormous potential.”
“It would increase my business dramatically,” Tobie Bubier of Bubier Meats in Greene said Monday. “I have customers talking already about the possibilities [of increasing] their production.”
Deidre Caldwell ships 25 to 50 beef a month from her Turner farm and uses both state and federally inspected facilities. One state-inspected facility is just 13 miles away, while the other, a federal plant, is in North Anson.
“I would prefer to use the closer, local one,” she said. “It is much better for my animals to be trucked just 13 miles.”
But because Caldwell Farms sells tons of organic hamburger to a Massachusetts-based prepared food company, those cows must be inspected federally and take the longer ride.
Caldwell recognized that some of Maine’s slaughter facilities are small, family operations that may not wish to expand. For those that do, however, changing the law will be a boon to business.
“This would certainly open up the markets, especially Boston,” Todd Pierce, owner of West Gardiner Beef, said Monday. “I think it will make the most difference to those slaughter facilities nearest the border but it could affect farmers across the state.”
Pierce said he is seeing a large increase in the number of organic and natural beef farms in Maine that could help meet the increasing demand for those meats nationwide.