Mike Naig (file photo)

A meat locker in Story City is the first in Iowa to be allowed to sell its products to customers in other states.

A new federal program lets state-inspected lockers get a U.S.D.A. stamp on processed meat, so it can be sold across state lines. Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig told Radio Iowa this opens up new markets for Iowa meat lockers as well as livestock and poultry producers.

“Iowa’s got a great brand for agriculture, as we know, and especially for meat production and so we think that’s something that we think can perform very well really all across the country,” Naig said.

This could broaden the range of Iowa beef, pork, and poultry sold to restaurants in cities like Chicago and beyond that promote the farm-to-table concept. It also means Iowa-branded meat could be sold in regional grocery stores.

“Over the last couple of months we’ve had a lot of focus on the food and agriculture supply chain and meat in particular and so I think there’s a lot of interest on the part of consumers and restaurants and really all across the board in more options when it comes to sourcing meat,” Naig said, “and we’ve seen that in the fact that our meat lockers are very, very busy and we like that we think that there’s an upside for them to stay busy.”

Naig and his staff worked for nearly a year to ensure all state regulations and inspections met the federal program requirements. It meant buying some new equipment and additional training for the state’s meat and poultry inspectors.

“It does also require U.S.D.A. to come into those lockers from time to time,” Naig said, “but the day-to-day, ongoing operational inspections will be conducted by our team.”

Meat processing businesses that have fewer than 25 full-time employees can sign up for the federal program. Al’s Country Meat Locker in Calmar and Ohrt’s Smokehouse in Ionia have also qualified for the program. Naig indicated a dozen other meat lockers that are eligible have applied.

“This is where I think there’s an opportunity: one for those existing meat lockers to expand, maybe hire some additional staff, make some equipment investments, and some facility investments,” Naig said. “And we are hearing, too, of some real interest in some new facilities and folks getting into the business, so that’s an exciting thing for us to look at — expanding this market opportunity and the economic development that goes along with it.”

There are a couple of hundred meat lockers in the state and 68 of them are eligible for this federal program.