While the new 2013 Farm Bill wends its way through Congress, USDA still has some catch-up work to do in meeting some of the requirements of the 2008 Farm Bill, according to the US Government Accountability Office (GAO). The Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 (the 2008 Farm Bill) authorized a new inspection program to support interstate shipment of meat and poultry products from selected establishments/processors—with 25 or fewer employees—inspected by state agencies. The program was to be implemented by USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

The Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA) and the Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA) give FSIS the responsibility for protecting the public by ensuring meat and poultry products shipped across state lines are safe. Under FMIA and PPIA, FSIS has the authority to cooperate with states in developing and administering state meat and poultry inspection programs to inspect and provide a state’s mark of inspection to meat and poultry products solely for distribution within their borders; 27 states have these programs in place.

Of the 27 states, FSIS has entered into cooperative agreements with 15 to allow them to conduct federal inspections and convey the federal marks of inspection in establishments covered by the agreements, according to GAO. The Cooperative Interstate Shipment (CIS) program allows selected small processors, which formerly sold only within the state where they were located, to reach markets in other states and foreign countries. The 2008 Farm Bill required FSIS to take action to implement and oversee the CIS program, and authorized it to select establishments to participate.

The 2008 Farm Bill also directed the Comptroller General of the US to conduct an audit to determine the effectiveness of the implementation of the CIS program. GAO’s two-fold objective in assessing the program was to examine:

1. FSIS’s implementation of the new inspection program and the number of establishments participating in it

2. The inspection oversight and standards of existing programs in which states conduct inspections for interstate shipment compared with those of CIS.

As of January 31, 2013, GAO had reviewed FSIS’s progress in four key program areas outlined in the 2008 Farm Bill. These included issuing regulations, selecting meat and poultry establishments for program participation, designating federal coordinators to ensure selected establishments are operating consistently with laws and regulations and establishing a technical assistance division to coordinate initiatives directed toward small establishments.

GAO found that FSIS completed most of the key activities outlined in the 2008 Farm Bill for implementing the CIS program, including issuing program regulations, approving states and selecting processors to participate in the program, designating federal coordinators for states with participating processors and submitting a draft, first quarter compliance report and establishing a technical assistance division.

However, the technical assistance division has not coordinated with other USDA agencies on initiatives to provide assistance described in the 2008 Farm Bill, according to FSIS officials—although they said such coordination could be helpful to small processors. The officials reported to GAO that FSIS relies on the states to convey information about CIS to their establishments, but the agency doesn’t monitor whether or how states convey such information.

According to GAO, coordinating with other USDA agencies on initiatives to provide outreach, education and training to processors and grants to states for these purposes, as well as technical assistance, would better position FSIS to leverage with other USDA agencies’ efforts to provide information and training about the CIS program to potentially interested establishments.

For more on the report, USDA’s Implementation of New State-Delegated Meat Inspection Program Addresses Most Key Farm Bill Requirements, but Additional Action Needed, visit www.gao.gov