Lou’s Gourmet Sausage, a small family business run by the Vinciguerra brothers of Cleveland, Ohio, takes sausage seriously. For over fifty years, the company has been supplying Cleveland restaurants and grocery stores with Sicilian, Andouille, Cajun, mild and hot chicken and veal sausages. But despite strong demand for its products, it took a USDA program to make Lou’s sausage available outside Ohio.
In 2012, Ohio was the first state to join USDA’s Cooperative Interstate Shipment program (CIS). The program, authorized under the 2008 Farm Bill, allows inspected and approved small state-inspected meat processors, like Lou's Gourmet Sausage, to bear an official USDA Mark of Inspection and ship meat and poultry across state lines. Previously, only products from federally inspected plants could be sold in other states. To participate in the program, state certified plants like Lou's Sausage work with USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) to integrate their systems to meet federal inspection standards. Once inspected and approved for compliance, these smaller plants can ship across state lines and are poised for bigger market opportunities.
This week, Indiana followed Ohio's lead and joined North Dakota and Wisconsin to become the fourth state to participate in the Cooperative Interstate Shipment program. Each time a state works with FSIS to participate in the program, it is expanding market opportunities for the region's small meat and poultry producers – many smaller producers process their animals at small state-inspected plants – while strengthening state and local economies and increasing consumer access to safe, locally-produced meat. In Indiana, it will mean that meat processed by selected smaller operations will be available beyond the Hoosier state.
Interstate shipment may not sound like a local food issue, but CIS actually has important implications for local food producers and consumers – especially when one state has a major market right across its border, as is the case with southern Wisconsin and Chicago. Implementing CIS is part of USDA's broader strategy to strengthen local and regional food systems and to help small and midsize producers access new market opportunities. USDA coordinates its work on these issues under the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, which includes a variety of resources to help producers and businesses tap into consumer demand for local foods. One such resource, a guide called Tools for Small and Midsized Livestock and Poultry; USDA Resources for Producers and Processors, was released in March as part of a wider package of support for America's small and mid-sized farmers and ranchers.
FSIS' Small Plant Help Desk, a customer service phone line at 1-877-FSIShelp, is also a valuable resource for small and midsize meat and poultry plants and can address issues and answer questions specific to smaller meat processors. The Small Plant Help Desk has fielded over 10,000 inquiries since 2009.
For businesses like Lou's Gourmet Sausage, USDA’s commitment to local food and to small and midsize producers is epitomized by efforts such as the Cooperative Interstate Shipment program and the Small Plant Help Desk. With these resources and opportunities, small processors are accessing new markets – and consumers are happily digging in.