March 9, 2005
Honorable Mike Johanns, Secretary
U.S. Department of Agriculture
14th Street & Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20250
Dear Mr. Secretary:
The 2002 Farm Bill includes language directing USDA to conduct a comprehensive review of state meat and poultry inspection programs and to provide a report to Congress on these activities by the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS). We are writing to ask about the status of this report.
USDA recently conducted new reviews of state inspection programs and updated the state program review process. For years, FSIS has repeatedly told us that completing these comprehensive reviews and identifying changes in state inspection programs are conditions which must be met before USDA can begin the transformation to a future new system where state-inspected products would be eligible for interstate shipment.
It was our understanding from numerous discussions with FSIS that these reviews would form the basis for the USDA report to Congress. However, during meetings last summer with agency officials, they informed us that this report would not address recommendations for interstate meat shipment. At that time, NASDA expressed concern and provided FSIS with a copy of the Farm Bill language. During a subsequent meeting in the fall of 2004, FSIS officials told us the report would not be issued, but offered no further explanation.
The language in the 2002 Farm Bill specifically requested USDA to offer guidance about “what changes the state systems might expect should the statutory prohibition against interstate shipment of state-inspected product be removed.” The state agriculture departments requested this information for a clear and simple reason. We believe it is imperative that USDA begin this transition work now so states can prepare to meet any new terms and requirements.
We have been strong and vocal advocates for lifting the unfair ban on interstate meat shipment. Congress has debated this issue for more than a decade. It is time to move forward. The USDA report and recommendations that was requested in the Farm Bill will start that process. We look forward to your prompt reply and stand ready to work with USDA on this important issue.
Nathan Rudgers, NASDA President
Commissioner, New York Department of Agriculture & Markets