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Montana signs Cooperative Interstate Shipping agreement

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Jay Bodner

The Montana Department of Livestock proudly announced recently they had officially secured a Cooperative Interstate Shipping (CIS) agreement with the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS). This agreement is a game changer for producers in Montana and will provide processing facilities with access to out-of-state markets for their beef, poultry, and chicken.

The start towards procuring this agreement actually goes back to the 2021 Montana Legislative Session, explained Jay Bodner, executive vice present for the Montana Stockgrowers Association. With COVID-19 wreaking havoc on meat supply chains and Montana meat packing facilities completely overwhelmed, the 2021 Legislative Session was seriously considering various bills that could help remedy the in-state supply bottleneck and increase packing facility capacity.

“There were a number of bills that looked at meat processing, but they didn’t really get to the point of helping Montana processors capture more of the value added. During the discussion of those legislative bills, we kind of pivoted to looking at the CIS program,” Bodner articulated.

A CIS agreement is a USDA-housed program that promotes business expansion for state-inspected meat processing facilities. Under a CIS agreement, state-inspected meat processing facilities who adhere to strict guidelines and conditions can sell and ship their product across state lines.

“This is a great program for not only our state-inspected plants, but it also has impacts all the way down the beef supply chain in Montana and that is what we want to do. We want to capture more of the value added in Montana,” he said.

The CIS program is only open to the 27 states that have an established Meat and Poultry Inspection program and maintain standards “at least equal to” those set by the USDA FSIS. With the recent addition of Montana, five states are currently enrolled in the CIS program.

It is important to note that meat sales are not limited to eligible states. Enrollment in the program means meat can be sold to all 50 states with an opportunity to sell internationally. At this time, no state enrolled in the CIS program has pursued the requirements for international sales.

Being accepted into the CIS program is a fairly rigorous process, Bodner noted. Montana had to first prove their overarching meat inspection program was up to federal standards and then they had to attest they will be able to uphold those standards. State meat inspectors must also be trained to the federal level, as well, to ensure acceptance to the program. Once Montana decided the CIS program was the best option for the state, they were able to complete the enrollment process in just under a year.

“I think it is such a compliment to the state that we were able to get this agreement signed in a shorter than the normal time,” Bodner stated.

With the state of Montana accepted to the CIS program it is now up to individual state-inspected processing facilities to seek enrollment into the program.

Montana is noted for producing some of the most premium meat in the United States. Being accepted to the CIS program provides the state with another opportunity to ensure as much value as possible stays within the Montana economy.

“This is more revenue stream and diversification in our state and that is really important to our industry,” Bodner noted.

In conclusion, Bodner encouraged state-inspected processing facilities to take advantage of the CIS program. The goal is to build off the momentum of this agreement and therefore be able to provide more opportunities for Montana producers and operations.

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