Posts Tagged ‘Legislature’
UPDATE July 8: Governor LePage vetos LD1282 and sends it back to the Legislature.
UPDATE July 9: Maine Senate does not override the veto.
Just as was the case in the 2011 state legislative session, several bills have been introduced that would exempt certain farms in Maine (including dairy farms and processors) in certain situations from state licensing requirements and food safety regulation. Two of these bills are now up for public comment before the legislature’s Ag Committee, scheduled for Tuesday, May 7th:
In 2011 the Guild published our Quality Statement to emphasis that we do not support local ordinances that would exempt commercial dairy processors from state regulations. This year the Guild presented testimony to the committee on Tuesday, May 7th. About 20 people spoke in favor of the bills; I was one of two who spoke to oppose them. Several, including the Dept. of Ag spoke neither in favor or opposed but they did offer amendments for the committee to consider.
The overwhelming sense I got from the supporters testimony is that there is no middle ground between small Maine farmers forced to sell their locally produced food illegally, versus the giant multinational corporations who want to control the food supply. It was as if all 70+ of the currently state licensed cheese producers in Maine did not exist. Or, if they did exist, they were in league with Hannaford and Nestle. It was such a disturbing feeling to sit in the midst of people painting me with a tar brush that I let it get to me, and during my presentation I needed to turn to the supporters and remind them that “I am one of you.” The story they told of being a struggling small farmer and food producer in the state was also MY story. But they hissed back at me when I pointed that out, and one person shouted back, “no, you’re with them.”
Regarding the bill to support unlicensed sales of raw milk, supporter after supporter asserted that it was NOT POSSIBLE today, in Maine, to legally sell raw milk.
I will try to keep the Guild updated on this topic as soon as I hear officially what the committee has decided with regard to these two bills. No matter what, the full legislature will still need to vote on them, so please educate your local legislator.
President, Maine Cheese Guild
The Maine Cheese Guild stands by it’s Quality Statement, issued in May 2009, with regard to the Local Food Ordinance proposals we have seen, and to the legislative bills introduced for the 2011 session (LD330 and LD366).
Our testimony against LD330, given to the Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry at the March hearing on this bill follows:
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There are several bills currently being debated in committee that could have widespread and extreme impact on the way we grow and process food for sale in the future. Spurred by the recently publicized issues of food contamination with dangerous pathogens (peanuts, jalepeno peppers, salad greens), Congress and the new administration have reacted by proposing specific new legislation to improve oversight and practices in the agriculture and food industries. But in the process, some question whether they are legislating small farms out of business. In some cases it might make it impossible for a small farm — currently selling safe food to the public under existing regulations — to qualify for insurance, and/or legally sell to retailers because they don’t have the staff required to comply with the paperwork, or their farm is geographically incapable of passing a “Good Agricultural Practices” (GAP) certification test.
The primary bill at issue is HR 875, the Food Safety Modernization Act, which would establish a new Food Safety Administration, separate from FDA. Farms would be required to maintain more detailed records and use “good practice standards”. However the means of maintaining records (some of which are already mandated under FDA oversight), and their definition of “good practice standards” seem to tilt heavily toward central food processing by large corporations, rather than by small family farms.
Three other bills — establishing a “trace back” system, mandating livestock identification (NAIS and beyond), and mandating annually audited HAACP programs with inspections paid by farmers — raise similar concerns, and MOFGA has a good overview of all these issues, as well as their updated status in the legislative process.
In a recent article in the UMaine newspaper, Scott Boulanger of Olde Oak Farm spoke about the impact these proposed changes to food regulation would have on his operation.
This is not news, but Maine dairy farmers now stare at a double-set of spinning saw teeth in the form of higher costs of production and shrinking government subsidies. The BDN recently reported on the hearings in Augusta that are taking place to discuss how much the State can continue to afford to prop up the prices paid to dairy farmers given the enormous budget deficits they are charged to with eliminating. I heard all about this at the recent Ag Day at the Legislature, but it seems they’re still no closer to a solution.
Obviously, without Maine milk, there isn’t going to be much of a Maine cheese industry, but the threat goes deeper than that. The remaining 300 dairy farms also support feed dealers, farm equipment dealers, and all other manner of agricultural supply resources in the state. Without a base of dairy farms in the state, these support services won’t be able to stay in business either. In the baldest terms, Maine dairy farms support all Maine agriculture…which means everyone connected with ag in the state are staring at the same spinning saw teeth now.
Above you can see me telling Governor Baldacci about how Maine Cheese is such a great dairy success story!
Along with about thirty ag focused groups, I spent the morning of March 31 offering samples of Maine cheese (thanks to State of Maine Cheese Co., and Pineland Farms) to state house workers and legislators (in between sessions) and asking them if they’d like to know more about Maine cheese. Most of the did, and most of them very much liked the samples of the cheese.
For the legislators, I handed them one of the color Guild brochures and pointed out that when we printed the brochure two years ago there were 20 licensed cheese makers in Maine (as it states in the first paragraph of the brochure), but that currently there are 37 licensed cheese makers, which shows how many new folks are stepping up and putting more Maine milk to good use.
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