South Dakota leaders continue working for meat safety around the state
State veterinarian outlines processing regulations at South Dakota Farmers Union convention
HURON – The South Dakota Meat Inspection Program is continuing its work to ensure that safe, quality cuts of meat find their way into the homes of South Dakotans, and is watching for ways to help smaller processors to expand their footprint outside the borders of the state.
That was the message from Dusty Oedekoven, state veterinarian for South Dakota, at the 106th annual South Dakota Farmers Union convention last weekend in Huron, where he spoke about meat inspection for processing plants in South Dakota and the regulations that come with it.
“That’s the main reason we’re in those plants and why we have these regulations, requirements and restrictions. For the purpose of food safety and preventing illness in people. That’s our primary role here,” Oedekoven said.
Oedekoven went over some of the procedures laid down by the South Dakota Meat Inspection Program, which provides inspection service to small and very small slaughter and processing establishments throughout the year. The program is a 50/50 cost-sharing inspection program with the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.
The program provides oversight and various levels of inspection to fully-inspected slaughter establishments, fully inspected processing establishments and custom exempt establishments. The program also licenses and inspects retail stores selling meat in South Dakota.
South Dakota is one of 27 states that have their own meat inspecting program, and all related establishments have the option of being either state or federally inspected to ensure a safe, quality product. Oedekoven said that only red meat is inspected by the state program in South Dakota, so all poultry inspection is handled through federal inspectors.
That’s one way the South Dakota Meat Inspection Program tries to make it easier for operations to become inspected.
“There is no cost to meat establishments for regular inspections. That’s a public good and we’re asked to come in and inspect procedures at plants at no cost to the plant,” Oedekoven said.
Working to meet demand
One area of focus of the presentation was smaller lockers that operate under the custom exemption. Custom exempt facilities provide the slaughter and processing as a service to the owner of the animal and the meat products are for use by the owner’s family and their non-paying guests only.
These operations are exempt from the Federal Meat Inspection Act requirements for carcass-by-carcass inspection, but are reviewed periodically to verify the facility is operating in a manner that produces a safe, wholesome food product in a sanitary environment. Meat produced from a custom-exempt facility must be labeled “Not For Sale” and may not be sold or donated.
It’s many of these smaller processors that are struggling to keep up with demand as COVID-19 and other issues impact the supply chain, making it difficult for some retailers to keep up with consumers who still want fresh, quality meat. Smaller lockers that do custom processing are one answer to keeping shelves full.
“Those are exempt from inspection because the product distribution is limited. This is where you bring your own animal to the licensed facility and they will process it according to your directions. They slaughter and process it and when it’s done they call you and you come and get it, and it’s labeled as not for sale,” Oedekoven said. “That meat is limited in distribution, for use in their household and non-paying guests. You can’t donate it to the food bank and it hasn’t undergone the other food safety processes under a food safety plan. It can’t be distributed beyond the original owner.”
“They are backed up. You try to get a date, a slaughter date, and it’s very difficult at this point. They’re working hard to keep up with the business they’ve got.”
—Dusty Oedekoven, State Veterinarian For South Dakota
With the pandemic still impacting some parts of the national workforce, such as meat processing plant workers, small packers have tried to help keep up with demand. Smaller facilities in South Dakota soon became overwhelmed with orders, and many extended their bookings as far as two years in advance. Reservations can still be hard to come by today.
"They are backed up, you try to get a date a slaughter date it’s very difficult at this point, they’re working hard to keep up with the business they’ve got," Oedekoven said.
After his presentation, Oedekoven took a handful of questions from the audience. One audience member was interested in what could be done to give smaller lockers a target retail space that could provide them an outlet for their product. He asked about the possibility of having small lockers provide local meat products to institutions such as retirement homes or schools.
Oedekoven agreed that that would be a nice arrangement, and there are some examples of that happening in South Dakota now.
“There are a number of small lockers that are producing meat for their local school system. That benefits both the local producers and the local school system,” Oedekoven said. “Those opportunities are out there.”
Another question from the audience indicated that it would be nice to have an easier road to distributing meat from small lockers to those beyond what is currently allowed. The audience member recounted a story of a hunter from Wisconsin who visited him and was served a South Dakota steak that was processed at an exempt facility. He offered to pay for the steak and any more he could take with him, but was told that selling the meat wasn’t allowed. So he offered to buy an animal, have it processed with a local small locker in South Dakota and he would pick it up when he returned the following year.
Later his host found out that someone down the line from the hunter had sold some of that meat, which technically isn’t allowed. But he took note of what the hunter told him - those South Dakota steaks were going for $20 per pound.
There is clearly value in South Dakota meat, especially in these days of a global pandemic.
Oedekoven said the state continues to look for ways to better regulate its meat inspection program, and hopes to implement improvements that benefit the livestock producer, the processing plants, both large and small, and the convenience and safety of the consumer.
“We do this for consumer protection. That’s who we’re here on behalf of. We work to ensure that the product is being produced at a locker that is not presenting food-borne illness to consumers,” Oedekoven said. “When the consumer brings a package of beef home, they know they’re not putting their family at risk.”