SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem announced Wednesday that small state-licensed meat processors will be able to ship meat over state lines under a state agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
South Dakota and the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service have entered into an agreement that allows state-licensed facilities to ship meat as if they were federally inspected. The Republican governor has tried to bolster the state's smaller meat processors in an industry dominated by major companies.
“For too long, meat producers have been shortchanged due to anticompetitive practices in the meatpacking industry,” Noem said in a statement. "These new opportunities will expand their options and allow them to ship South Dakota meat across state lines.”
In recent weeks, she has also touted a grant program for small meat processors and called on the Department of Justice to investigate major meatpackers that she claims hold an outsized control over the industry.
In South Dakota, where there are roughly five beef cattle for every person, the livestock industry makes up a huge chunk of the economy. According to the North American Meat Institute, a meat processors trade association, South Dakota slaughterhouses sold over $5.6 billion in meat during 2019, the most recent year data was available.
Before the agreement with the USDA, known as a Cooperative Interstate Shipping agreement, state-inspected facilities were only allowed to sell meat within the state. Eight other states currently participate in the agreement program — Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio, Vermont, and Wisconsin.
The president of the South Dakota Cattlemen's Association, Eric Jennings, said the agreement might help local producers, but that the effects would not be immediate because local meat processors are already busy fulfilling demand from within the state.
“They have just about all the business they can handle,” he said.
He added that it would be difficult for small meat lockers to compete with the large producers because there is a massive difference in the number of animals they can slaughter. But as the price of meat rises in supermarkets, there is a growing demand for local products.
There are currently 34 meat processing facilities licensed by the state. Jennings said there is a growing interest in opening small butchering facilities and the new agreement would help them stay viable if they can market to other states. It is only open to facilities with fewer than 25 employees.
“Having access to larger markets will help them survive,” he said.