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What’s next for stalled state meat inspection program?

by Debora Nicoll | April 29, 2021
3 min read
New Mexico’s previous meat inspection program was dismantled in 2007 because of chronic and systemic food safety violations. Advocates believe the program's reinstatement will create new business opportunities and jobs and direct-to-market products for consumers. Source: Center for Food Safety

An attempt led by local legislators to reinstate a state meat inspection program stalled when House Bill 33 unanimously passed in the House, but failed to make its way through Senate before the 2021 legislative session ended. However, the New Mexico Livestock Board received $500,000 in House Bill 2, a general appropriations act, to be used to advance the effort.

Co-sponsored by local Representative Rebecca Dow (R-District 38) and backed by local Senator Crystal Diamond (R-District 35), HB33 had strong, bipartisan support among legislators who believed a return to in-state meat inspection will create new business opportunities and jobs and direct-to-market products for consumers. (Read the Sun’s cost-benefit analysis of these claims here.) The legislation passed the House with a vote of 69 yeas to 0 nays. All nine members of the Senate Conservation Committee recommended that the bill be passed. HB33 was in a queue behind four or five other bills awaiting a Senate vote when the legislative session expired.

Belinda Garland, New Mexico Livestock Board director since 2019, told the Sun that the NMLB is “confident that legislators will see the benefit of an in-state meat inspection program, not only for the agricultural industry, but for the consumers as well.” The NMLB will work on reintroducing enabling legislation in the 2022 session.

Because HB33, which would have granted the NMLB the authority to conduct meat inspections, was not enacted, the state program cannot yet be legally implemented. The $500,000 special appropriation had been submitted to the legislature last fall in anticipation of HB33’s passage, and the NMLB is now “reviewing options regarding how to most effectively use” the funding, according to Garland.

New Mexico’s previous meat inspection program, which had been administered by the NMLB, was dismantled in 2007 because of chronic and systemic food safety violations. In other states, the programs are under the jurisdiction of departments of agriculture. Why not here? the Sun asked Garland.

Garland explained that the NMLB already has a presence at every processing facility in the state, where its inspectors examine live animals to ensure their health and ownership tags to prevent theft. “Having an established relationship with the processing industry,” Garland said, “we would easily fit into the structure for meat inspection.”

If the meat inspection program is eventually reinstated, there will be federal oversight to ensure it meets USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) standards, Garland maintains. “In the process of setting up the program there will be rules and policies put in place to ensure the program remains compliant in all the years to come,” she said. “A large part of that compliance will rely on the program receiving sufficient funding from the State Legislature to ensure the program has all of the tools necessary to succeed.”

author

Debora Nicoll covers the Sierra County Commission for the Sun.

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Reader Joey Perry (T or C) commented: Great suggestions. Here’s one more. Make the meeting agendas more informational. In addition to the ordinance number, include a sentence or two (in plain English) saying what the item is about and why it is on the agenda—e.g., what is the issue? This would help me decide if I want to attend a meeting, or write a letter to the manager or the commissioners, expressing my views ahead of the meeting.

1 Comment on “What’s next for stalled state meat inspection program?”

  1. Why not put this money in a bank account and use it to implement the program when it passes during next year’s session? It seems wrong that something that seemed to have both popular support as well as bipartisan support somehow got lost in the shuffle due to time limitations. But, if the money is there, it would be a shame to make up some unnecessary way to spend that money when it was designated for implementing that specific program. It doesn’t need any more lobbying since it seems likely it will pass in the next session. Who knows what the financial scene will be for next year’s budget. The money is there; hang on to it and as soon as it passes we’ll be ready to implement it.

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