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Commissioners favor state meat inspection idea

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A statewide initiative to bring back state meat inspections has the support of the Chaves County Board of Commissioners.

The group voted unanimously, 5-0, Thursday during its regular monthly meeting for a resolution in favor of state meat inspections as a supplement to the federal meat inspection process.

Commissioner Jeff Bilberry, the vice president of a ranching corporation, said he thinks such a program could help not only beef producers but also those who raise hogs and lambs. He said it also could help the smaller meat packing companies in the state that don’t have access to federal inspectors.

“I hope they can create their own wind behind it to get their products in the state,” he said. “There is a need for this and I fully support it.”

A Chaves County meat packing company, USA Beef Packing, does have federal inspectors.

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Commissioner Dara Dana said she thinks people need the assurance of a stable food supply, which proponents of the program say a state inspection program could provide by allowing ranchers and meat producers to sell directly to grocery stores or other end-users in the state.

“But it also has been kind of interesting to see that people are trying to shop local,” she added.

Since 2007, when state meat inspections stopped in New Mexico, meat producers have been required to sell their livestock to feedlots or to facilities that have U.S. Department of Agriculture inspections, or else they can give — rather than sell meat — to friends and family members. About 25 other U.S. states have state inspection programs, according to the New Mexico Department of Agriculture.

Interim County Manager Bill Williams noted that some large meat plants had to be shut down this year due to COVID-19 outbreaks, causing disruptions to the food supply chain.

A bill to start the state inspection program was introduced during the March special legislative session, but the governor did not include it as part of the agenda because the session focused mainly on the state budget and coronavirus-related matters. Supporters have said they intend to introduce the bill again when the Legislature convenes in January.

According to a recent presentation to a Nov. 10 Legislative Economic and Rural Development Committee, the inspection program is expected to cost about $2 million to establish, with annual operating costs of about $1.6 million.

Belinda Garland, executive director of the New Mexico Livestock Board, said the success of such a program will depend on having adequate staffing and funding to ensure that it will comply with federal food safety requirements. She said it could take “quite a while” to have a program running should a bill pass, explaining that meetings are occurring now to try to determine exactly how long establishing a state-run program would take.

Besides this resolution and the approval of a labor management relations board ordinance, as previously reported, the commission also voted Thursday on several other matters. That included the following items:

• The commission approved a $364,550 bid from APIC Solutions to install a new security system at the Chaves County Courthouse, a project funded by a previous state capital outlay award.

• As required by state law, the board will hold a public hearing in 2021 to consider creating a property tax rebate program for low-income residents. Stanton Riggs said the county has never chosen to adopt the program, but state law requires a hearing about it at the start of every odd-numbered year.

• Commissioners approved the 2021 Road Hearing Schedule to consider applications to close, adopt or maintain roads in the county. Applications can be submitted Dec. 27 to Jan. 10.

• Commissioners voted to waive a $1,940 road cut fee for Berrendo Cooperative Water Users Association. The association had to cut a portion of Kincaid Road in October to do an emergency water line repair.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.