The Montana House Appropriations Committee on March 1 passed an amended version of House Bill 336, which seeks to change meatpacking inspections to allow for state-inspected meat to be sold in some other states.

The bill aims to forge an interstate agreement among willing states that would adhere to the same regulations as federally inspected meat-packing plants so that packers and ranchers could market products across state lines.

During testimony before the Montana House Agriculture Committee, proponents of the bill the argued that the measure, which is also being considered seriously in South Dakota, would allow states to regain control of their own agricultural destiny.

Currently, in order to transport meat across state lines it has to be processed in a federally-inspected facility. Critics say the cumbersome process, run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is set up to maintain a stranglehold for four large meat-packing companies in the United States.

However, the bill’s effective date in its passed version is contingent on either of the following taking place: The director of the Department of Livestock certifying the interstate compact has been ratified by the United States Congress, or the attorney general certifying that a court of competent jurisdiction has ruled the compact is not preempted by federal law and the action is no longer subject to appeal.

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The amendments adding the contingencies clear up issues opponents of the bill had. The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service had warned Montana officials that should HB336 pass in its original form, the state would stand to lose more than $1.2 million in annual funding and would fall out of compliance with the federal law, meaning animal producers would not be able to ship finished product beyond the state lines. Even more problematic, the state would have to fund its portion of the inspection program.

The bill now goes to the state Senate for consideration.