NAEBA: Keep Elk as Non-Amenable Species in US

Originally appeared in the Fall 2017 Issue of the Upper Midwest Cervid Newsletter

The North American Elk Breeders Association declares elk should stay as a non-amenable species in the United States. For over a year NAEBA has worked to weigh the pros and cons of altering the elk status within the US. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). 

A NAEBA/AEPF task force comprised of meat producers was assembled to identify facts and known advantages and disadvantages of changing the status. After several meetings, a summary was published in the March newsletter for the membership’s consideration with an open comment period from March 1-August 31, 2017. In addition, NAEBA held a forum for discussion during the 2017 convention in Mankato, Minnesota. 

Currently, elk are not listed as a USDA amenable species for meat processing in the United States. This means that elk, all species of deer, antelope, rabbits, among others, are not subject to mandatory federal inspection by USDA FSIS under the Federal Meat Inspection Act in order to ship across state lines. Non-amenable meat, however, may still be inspected voluntarily at USDA plants. Currently, voluntary inspection fees vary by location, but average between $40-79 per animal. Elk may be processed at licensed USDA inspected facilities on a voluntary basis both from the perspective of the USDA (they can refuse) and from the producer (they can request), but the inspection fee is paid by the producer. Other, more common livestock species, such as cattle, goats, sheep and swine are on the USDA amenable species list and therefore must comply with federal inspection rules in order for their meat to cross state lines and be sold to the public. As such, the USDA amenable inspection fees are provided at no cost to the producer or processor. If a change in status was warranted, NAEBA would have to file a petition to USDA FSIS to have elk be moved from an exotic meat species to amenable species. After a period of study, including cost-benefit analysis and USDA budget impact review, NAEBA would need to lobby Congress to amend the law. 

However, after the membership comment period ended, feedback overwhelmingly opted to remain as a non-amenable species. Although producers in some states would realize savings from inspection fees, known and unintended consequences outweighed the benefits. 

In October, the NAEBA Board of Directors unanimously approved the Meat Industry Committee's recommendation to not advocate for a status change With USDA FSlS. 

"This was a very good process," Executive Director Travis Lowe told the membership at the convention during the forum. “NAEBA had been asked for our opinion on this issue so we developed a transparent and thorough process to understand your wishes. This question may have meant more or less to different people, depending on your market and location, but we tried to capture membership sentiment through a very democratic process. We are thankful to all of our members that participated and the members of the Meat Industry Committee for their effort on this.”