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by intern Emily Stephenson

The USDA is preparing to implement new legislation soon that will allow slaughterhouses with 25 or fewer employees to ship meat across state lines. At first the news seem innocuous, but it is in fact very exciting for both small farmers and those who support them.

The groundwork for this bill was laid out under the 2008 Farm Bill, which set aside 5 percent of USDA’s business and industry loan guarantee program for local food production, providing the initial building blocks for the Know Your Farm Know Your Food initiative. Deputy USDA Secretary Kathleen Merrigan credits Congress with providing the initial impetus for the program, though she herself deserves quite a bit of credit too.

“Restoring the link between consumers and local producers will not only open new income opportunities for small farmers and generate wealth that will stay in rural communities, it will also expand access to healthy, fresh, and locally produced food,” said Merrigan.

Know Your Farmer Know Your Food was launched in September of this year, and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack hopes the $65 million program will “begin a national conversation to help develop local and regional food systems and spur economic opportunity.” By connecting local consumers with their local food producers, local wealth stays in local economies, and rural communities get revitalized. The money has been available in previous years, but the program aims to create a “one stop shop” for local food issues. And while the initiative does nothing to address the practices of industrial agriculture, it’s great to see small and local getting such well-deserved attention and support.

The news surrounding state-inspected slaughterhouses is particularly groundbreaking. Currently, 27 states operate meat or poultry inspection programs, and FSIS (Food Safety Inspection Services) confirmed that the state program’s requirements are “at least equal to” those under the federal meat and poultry products inspection acts. For these programs, FSIS provides up to 50 percent of the state’s operating funds, as well as oversight and enforcement. State-inspected establishments that are not selected for the voluntary program, including state-inspected establishments with more than 25 employees, will remain eligible only to sell and ship their products within their state.