New house bill 336 to impact Montana meat processing plants

BILLINGS - The Montana House of Representatives have partnered with several states to introduce House Bill 336 to create an Interstate Cooperative Meatpacking Compact.

Colter Brown at the Northern Ag Network says the bill would create an agreement between Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, North and South Dakota, Iowa and Nebraska to allow state inspected meat to be sold in any of the other states without federal regulations.

According to the Montana Department of Livestock, there are currently 36 state regulated meat processing plants in Montana.  For meat to be sold across state lines it would have to be processed at a USDA inspected facility. Brown says this new bill tries to go around those regulations.

While this is the first state bill of its kind, Brown says it does bring some benefits to state meat plants.

“If they were able to sell meat to other states it just creates new opportunities, new markets for them. And Hopefully that trickles back to ranchers and give them the opportunity to sell livestock in other markets and be able to attain higher prices," Brown said.

While there are benefits to the bill, Brown says there is also a downside: the bill does not have the support of the Montana Meat Processors Association.

Association President Jayson Emmett says their concern is, if the bill is passed, the federal funding of state meat processors would be pulled.

“The state would not be granted their equal to status, so our state program would then not qualify and it would eliminate the state plants in Montana. Our state is already struggling, you know, going through this coronavirus, and this bill would not benefit our meat industry in Montana at all," Emmett said.

Emmett says there could be better scenarios down the line, but right now they’re focusing on making sure this house bill does not pass.

“Because then it would put all of our meat processors in pretty much a state of emergency," Emmett said.

House Bill 336 will receive its first hearing in the House Agriculture Committee on Feb. 23.


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