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Published February 02, 2010, 03:40 PM

Indian governor backs away from planned cuts

INDIANAPOLIS — The administration of Gov. Mitch Daniels backed away Monday from a plan to carve out about half of the budget for state inspections of meat processors after complaints that it would drive some plants out of business and hurt small livestock farms.

By: Ken Kusmer, Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS — The administration of Gov. Mitch Daniels backed away Monday from a plan to carve out about half of the budget for state inspections of meat processors after complaints that it would drive some plants out of business and hurt small livestock farms.

The budget of the Meat and Poultry Inspection Program will be cut by less than 50 percent and some state inspectors will lose their jobs, Doug Metcalf, chief of staff for the Indiana State Board of Animal Health, told The Associated Press on Monday.

“In our view, while they’re significant, they’re not severe,” Metcalf said of the cuts.

The extent and timing of the cuts will not be made public until after Daniels’ office briefs lawmakers this week, Metcalf said.

The news of the smaller cut, first announced in a memo from the board after the close of business Friday, offered a glimmer of hope to a network of small, independent Indiana slaughterhouses and their farmer clients that raise livestock and sell meat directly to restaurants and consumers through farmer’s markets and direct sales.

Greg Fisher, president of the Indiana Meat Packers and Processors Association, said many had been worried that the reduced availability of state inspectors would mean they could not process as many animals, forcing some out of business just as the industry is growing with the popularity of locally raised meat.

”My initial reaction is that I’m glad our voice is being heard, but I hope it’s not just lip service. I hope this still allows people to grow and prosper,” said Fisher, who has a Portland-based, family-run packing business with 50 employees.

The board memo, sent to lawmakers and the industry and obtained by the AP, said the board, after meeting with processors and livestock farmers, was able to work out a cost-saving plan for the inspection program that keeps it viable while also reducing its cost. Daniels has ordered virtually all state programs to trim their budgets in the face of declining tax revenues.

“Regrettably, the plan will ultimately involve significant MPIP staff layoffs,” the memo said.

State Veterinarian Bret Marsh sent a letter to meat processors Jan. 6 warning them that a 50 percent budget cut would take effect July 1. Since the federal government matches state funding dollar for dollar, the budget cut would be nearly $2 million, the letter said.

“Fifty percent kind of scared most of the people in the industry,” said Tim Rice of Rice’s Quality Farm Meats in Spencer.

Meat processors don’t pay a fee for inspections, which are required for food safety whenever a farmer has an animal slaughtered for consumption by others. The industry said the 134 state-inspected meat processors employ about 1,600 workers and processed more than 82,000 head of beef, hogs, lambs and goats last year valued at $35.8 million.

The state inspects only smaller processors. Large corporate processors are inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Paul Russell, who helps his son raise sheep for meat north of Muncie, remained wary of the impact of the budget cut on state inspections. Processors still will need to streamline their slaughtering to conform with fewer inspectors.

“We book out three to four months now just to get our time slot,” Russell said. “We may not get scheduled and we may run out of product.”

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