Letter to the Editor

Community meat lockers: Great source of local food

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Iowa is a great agriculture state, but it is also easy to forget that means we are a great food state. The products raised on our farms are found throughout your local grocery store and on your dinner plate.

Iowa's livestock farmers produce a lot of that food for us in Iowa and also for people around the world. Our state leads the nation in pork production and is in the top ten in production of beef. And, that delicious corn-fed Iowa beef or a juicy Iowa pork chop are recognized across the globe as the standard of high-quality, flavorful meat.

One option to get more of these Iowa-grown products in your diet is to visit your local meat locker.

Iowa currently has 164 Iowa inspected establishments serving the people of Iowa. This includes sixty-eight "official establishments" that are able to directly sell their products, labeled "Iowa Inspected and Passed," within the state.

There are also eighty-six "custom exempt establishments" that slaughter and process livestock, poultry, and wild game for the owner's exclusive use and are labeled "NOT FOR SALE." Custom exempt establishments are also allowed to purchase inspected products for further processing and sale to the household consumer.

In addition, 10 plants are able slaughter poultry, either on a custom basis for the animal's owner or as an official establishment where they can offer it for sale.

The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship's Meat and Poultry Inspection Bureau licenses and inspects these facilities to ensure the products are safe and the plants are following all mandatory requirements.

The requirements at "official" establishments include inspection at slaughter for all livestock and poultry, conducting mandated daily inspection for further processing, and ensuring the facilities are properly maintained. Custom exempt plants work for the animal's owner and are inspected under a Risk Based Inspection Program but are inspected at least quarterly by the Department.

Official establishments can also do custom work as long as they keep all the official inspected meat products separate from the custom meat products throughout the entire process.

In 2010, official establishments slaughtered and processed approximately 92,000 head of livestock and domestic poultry (84,000 poultry/7,700 livestock), with all of the resulting products sold in Iowa. Custom exempt slaughter and processing accounts for an additional larger number of animals slaughtered and processed for Iowa families to use exclusively in their homes.

The basic difference between state and federal inspection is that state inspected and passed products are not allowed in interstate commerce or export. To sell meat across state line, or internationally, a plant needs to be inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS). All plants, both state and federally inspected, are licensed by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.

A full list of all the meat processing plants in Iowa, searchable by plant name, city or county, is available on our Department's website so you can find a facility close to you. The directory is available by going to www.IowaAgriculture.gov and selecting the "Bureaus" link on the left side of the page. Then choose "Meat & Poultry Inspection," which will take you to a link where you can choose the "Iowa Licensed Meat and Poultry Plants."

So, whether you are looking for a side of beef to fill your freezer before the summer grilling season or you are just looking for a couple of pork chops to enjoy, consider finding the locker plant near you. It is a great way to get safe, high-quality meat while supporting your local community. Plus, your taste buds will certainly thank you as enjoy one of the many foods Iowa does such a great job producing!

Bill Northey

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture

Northey, a fourth generation corn and soybean farmer from Spirit Lake, is serving his second term as Secretary of Agriculture. His priorities as Secretary of Agriculture are promoting the use of science and new technologies to better care for our air, soil and water, and reaching out to all Iowans to tell the story of Iowa agriculture. To learn more, visit www.IowaAgriculture.gov.