State's Choice Of Cuts Could Hurt Meat-processors

January 09, 1991|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Staff writer

Who would've thought the state budget ax would come down on a slaughterhouse?

David Feeser and other owners of small meat-processing plants in the county are worried that a cut in the state meat-inspection program could put them out of business.

"I might have two choices -- borrow money or close the doors," said Feeser, whose family owns A & W Country Meats Inc. in Taneytown.

Last week, Gov. William Donald Schaefer and the state Board of Public Works eliminated 39 jobs in the Meat and Poultry Inspection Section of the Department of Agriculture as part of an effort to close a $423 million deficit.

The move will save $616,000, said state program chief Stephen T. Wolford, who said he expects to lose his job.

The federal government, which already pays half the cost of the inspection program, will take over the program in the spring, he said.

Feeser and others say that will mean more red tape and expenses for plant owners.

While state standards for meat quality are identical to those of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the USDA is stricter about facilities, said Dennis Steger of Manchester, a Maryland inspector for 16 years.

Feeser said he probably would have to spend $20,000 to bring his building up to federal standards. He slaughters about10 cows and hogs a week.

John J. Auciello, assistant executive director of the American Association of Meat Processors, based in Elizabethtown, Pa., said the change will be especially hard on farmers. The association represents 1,800 meat companies, 23 of which are in Maryland.

If small slaughterhouses and processing plants go out of business because they can't afford to meet federal requirements, farmers will have to travel farther and possibly pay more to have their animals processed, he said.

Emmett Full, a Mount Airy beef farmer, said that he probably would have to go to Lancaster, Pa., if the Mount Airy Locker Co. closed and that it might cost him $40 to $50 more percow for processing.

William Wagner, owner of Mount Airy Locker Co., said it's possible the change could put him out of business if theUSDA forces him to widen doorways and change ceiling and railing heights to meet its requirements.

His business, which opened in 1954,slaughters about 120 cows, hogs and lambs a week.

William K. Campbell, co-owner of Bauerlein Meats in Hampstead, said he doesn't oppose the change because he'd like to see one uniform inspection system.

He said he had planned to convert his business to a federally inspected plant in order to sell meat across state lines. State-inspectedplants may sell meat only in-state.

Bauerlein butchers about 25 animals a week.

Consumers shouldn't be worried about the quality oftheir meat because of the changeover, he said. The state inspectors won't stop working until the USDA takes over, Wolford said.

"I look for a smooth transition from state to federal," he said.

Wilson S. Horne, deputy administrator for inspection operations in the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, said the USDA will hire many of the Maryland inspectors after conducting a survey of processing plants.

Plants would have three years to make any facility changes the USDA would require, Horne said.

Inspectors perform checks before and after animals are slaughtered, Wolford said.

Auciello said stateinspection programs operate more efficiently than the federal program when it comes to label approvals, availability of inspectors and resolution of disputes.

"It looks good politically for a guy to slash money quickly and say, 'We'll let the feds take over,' " he said.

Twenty-nine states have their own inspection programs, Auciello said.

Steger, who inspects plants in Carroll, Frederick and Washington counties, said he's not sure he would take a job with the USDA if offered one. He'd have to take a pay cut and would lose his seniority,he said.

The top salary for a Maryland inspector is about $28,000a year, Steger said.

Horne said he wasn't sure what the average USDA inspector's salary is, but said Maryland inspectors would be hired at an experience level comparable to their level in Maryland.

Wagner said he is trying to get area meat processors together for a meeting to discuss the change.

Auciello said he's asking association members to write to the governor asking that the state inspection program be continued.

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