Sunday, February 28, 2021

Warnick wants to establish state meat, poultry inspection program

by Angelica Relente, Herald Legislative Writer
| January 18, 2021 1:00 AM

Washington could have its own meat and poultry inspection program if a bill passes during this year’s state legislative session.

Senate Bill 5045 would allow the state to establish an inspection program as long as the Washington State Department of Agriculture approves of the program, according to the bill’s text.

The proposed state inspection program must be at least equal to the federal requirements needed for inspections, according to the bill’s text. WSDA can also have an agreement with the United States Department of Agriculture to allow interstate product shipments.

Sen. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake, is the primary sponsor of the bill. She said a lot of consumers want to purchase meat from local producers. SB 5045 would help producers who want more opportunities to sell specific cuts of meat.

“Having more inspections — a wider variety of inspections both federal and state — will allow that to happen,” Warnick told the Herald.

Warnick said this bill is based on similar legislation Oregon lawmakers passed last year.

James McPhee, a first-generation farm owner from Ridgefield, Washington, said the bill can change the way small farmers can provide products to their community.

“Right now, for most situations and most individuals, they have to sell an animal by a quarter or half or a whole,” McPhee told the Herald. “For a lot of people, that’s just too much meat at one time.”

Laura Raymond, regional markets program manager at the Washington State Department of Agriculture, said SB 5045 considers long-standing challenges faced by small-scale meat processors and producers.

“Local ranchers and farmers are reaching out to us, beginning as early as March, to say that they could not find local processors with space to take their hogs, cattle, sheep (and) sometimes poultry,” Raymond said during the virtual legislative hearing Thursday.

When the pandemic hit, small-scale meat processors inspected by USDA, as well as establishments licensed by WSDA, were struggling to keep up with demands, Raymond said. Last year, WSDA was able to provide $5 million worth of CARES Act relief funds to support 58 meat processors in 28 counties.

But the need for financial support surpassed the funds they could offer, Raymond said.

Before establishing a state inspection program, Raymond said a lot of investments would need to be made. Infrastructure, equipment and technical assistance are just two of the many needs that must be considered.

Senators have not yet voted on the passage of SB 5045.