The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) will publish proposed regulations to implement a new voluntary cooperative program under which select State-inspected establishments will be eligible to ship meat and poultry products in interstate commerce. The new program was created in the 2008 Farm Bill to supplement the existing Federal-State cooperative inspection program to allow State-inspected plants with 25 or fewer employees to ship products across State lines. This announcement is part of the USDA's new 'Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food' initiative, which seeks to better connect consumers with local producers to help develop local and regional food systems to spur economic opportunity.

“This new cooperative interstate shipment program will provide new economic opportunities for many small and very small meat and poultry establishments, whose markets are currently limited," said USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety Jerold Mande. "We can provide new markets for these establishments, while maintaining the integrity of the Federal mark of inspection."

Currently, 27 states operate State meat or poultry inspection programs, and FSIS verifies that the State programs are implementing requirements that are "at least equal to" those imposed under the Federal meat and poultry products inspection acts. For these programs, FSIS provides up to 50 percent of the State's operating funds and provides oversight and enforcement of the program

Under the proposed rule, which went on display at the Office of the Federal Register Monday and will be published this Wednesday, selected establishments will receive inspection services from federally trained and/or supervised State inspection personnel who will verify that the establishments meet all Federal food safety requirements. Meat and poultry products produced under the voluntary cooperative program will bear an official USDA mark of inspection, thereby enabling interstate shipment of the products.

State-inspected establishments that are not selected for the voluntary cooperative program, including state-inspected establishments with more than 25 employees, are only eligible to sell and ship their products within their State.

Comments must be received on or before Monday, November 16, 2009, through the Federal eRulemaking Portal at www.regulations.gov , by mail to: FSIS Docket Room, USDA, FSIS, OPPD, Docket Clearance Unit,

5601 Sunnyside Avenue
, Stop 5272, Beltsville, MD20705. All comments must identify FSIS and the docket number FSIS-2008-0027. Comments will be available for viewing online here.

For further information contact Philip Derfler, Assistant Administrator, Office of Policy and Program Development, at (202) 720-2709, or by fax at (202) 720-2025.

This announcement is just one component of USDA's 'Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food' initiative to help develop local and regional food systems and spur economic opportunity. By successfully restoring the link between consumers with local producers there can be new income opportunities for farmers and generate wealth that will stay in rural communities; a greater focus on sustainable agricultural practices; and families can better access healthy, fresh, locally grown food.