For the birds: New rules help independent poultry processors

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Catherine W. Idzerda
Sunday, July 13, 2014

SHOPIERE—Never mind crossing the road.

Until very recently, federal law prevented independently processed chickens from crossing state lines.

The newly established U.S. Department of Agriculture Cooperative Shipping Program has changed that, and that's good news for local processors such as Brian Lutzow of Twin Cities Pack in Shopiere.

Lutzow, who has owned Twin Cities Pack for 10 years, is a processor. He doesn't run a retail store.

His customers range from 4-H kids to organic farmers with small herds. His largest customer is MacFarlane Pheasants of Janesville.

As one of only a handful of independent poultry processing plants in Wisconsin, you'd think he'd be doing a booming business.  Instead, the plant usually runs between two and three days a week.

“I'd like to do more, I'd like to be able to provide more hours for my employees,” Lutzow said.

The problem: The 1960 Meat Inspection Act states that chicken, beef and other meat products sold in retail settings must be processed in the same state, said Cindy Klug, the manager of the state Bureau of Meat Inspection. 

Big companies, such as Gold'n Plump, don't need to worry because they are processing birds and selling their own products. Such companies are federally inspected, and that means the birds can cross state lines.

But Lutzow isn't selling product under his own label. He's just providing a service.

So if an organic farmer from southern Wisconsin wants to sell his chickens at farmers markets in Illinois, he or she would have to take his birds to the closest Illinois processing plant several hours away.

“There are producers in Illinois that could stand on a hill and see Wisconsin but had to go south (for a processing plant) Klug said. “This helps break down borders.”

The cooperative shipping program, which was first introduced in the 2008 Farm Bill allows processors such as Lutzow to become certified facilities for interstate shipping.

“It took six years to implement, and the big boys challenged it” Lutzow said, referring to the companies that process and sell chicken nationwide.

Lutzow applied for the license in 2013 and it took about a year to process. He's the second in the state to be approved. The first was Wyttenbach Meats in Prairie Du Sac, Klug said.

The change has already meant more for business of Lutzow, and he hopes more will come his way.

“I can't see it affecting us a lot this year,” Lutzow said. “Farmers make their plans far in advance, they can't start raising more birds now. The ones that can react are reacting.”

Klug said the “buy local” movement will help independent processors such as Lutzow. It also provides a boost for organic farms near state lines.

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