Farmers and agricultural advocates are rallying behind a piece of legislation that promises to expand the potential for local meat and poultry processing in Massachusetts.
According to state and federal law, all meat and poultry products sold to restaurants, supermarkets, and consumers must be inspected at a United States Department of Agriculture processing facility. The state of Massachusetts itself does not have any requirements for meat and poultry inspection other than cooperation with USDA regulations, but there’s a problem. In the Commonwealth zero processing facilities exist for poultry.
For farmers like Kim Wells, of Williamstown, that means that in order to process his poultry, he must travel over state lines to a USDA processor in Eagle Bridge, NY. But, it’s not as simple as that…
Rich Bonanno, president of the Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation, says that for farmers living in the Commonwealth who want to process their red-meat – such as beef, pork, and lamb – only two USDA processing facilities exist, and that creates its own problems.
So groups including the Massachusetts Farm Bureau and the Williamstown Agricultural Commission are supporting a bill sponsored by First Franklin District State Representative Stephen Kulik that would help expand meat and poultry processing in the Bay State. Representative Kulik explains that the bill would remove some regulatory barriers that prevent processing expansion, including removing the Department of Public Health from the loop in the process of obtaining a slaughter license.
A new program would combine state and federal oversight of meat and poultry processing within the Department of Agriculture Resources. The bill would also ensure the USDA would pick up half of the cost of the new program. Kulik’s proposal is similar to legislation passed in Vermont, Connecticut, and Maine, where they have proven effective in increasing slaughter and processing facilities. By making it easier for processors to open, Kulik hopes the bill will reduce travel times for farmers, but also increase production.
Sarah Gardner, a lecturer of Environmental Studies at Williams College and member of the Williamstown Agricultural Commission, is also a volunteer with the Keep Berkshires Farming initiative for the 8 towns of Northern Berkshire County. In her work with the initiative, Gardner has interviewed local farmers to gather data on the area’s agriculture industry.
In thelast legislative session, previous version of the bill failed to make its way through the legislature. Representative Kulik said he has hopes for the bill in the new session.