Farmers expected to testify in favor of local food processing and sales bills

Posted March 17, 2011, at 6:51 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Rep. Walter A. Kumiega had been buying raw milk from a local farmer for a while when the farmer told him he was running into some serious problems.

“He was being told [by the Maine Department of Agriculture] that he can’t advertise, that he needed a special license,” Kumiega said. The farmer was delivering his raw milk to a local buying club, not stores, and felt the regulations were unfair.

As a result, Kumiega is sponsoring LD 366, which clarifies that a raw milk license is not necessary in Maine and that farmers may sell raw milk from motor vehicles, such as a delivery route, and from a portable farm stand, such as those used at farmers markets.

The bill to clarify the sale of raw milk is one of five bills relating to the sale and processing of local food that will be heard Tuesday, March 22, at public hearings before the Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

The other four bills are LD 330, which centers on home-prepared food for sale; LD 363, which exempts certain food producers from the Maine bottle bill; LD 738, which refines the definition of a farm stand; and LD 922, a resolve to study and streamline the laws governing small slaughterhouses.

“There is a clear movement to support local food producers,” said Bob St. Peter, director of Food for Maine’s Future, an umbrella organization for groups and campaigns that promote local, sustainable agriculture. He added that a large crowd of farmers is expected to attend the hearings.

“The reason the local movement is so strong is that our local food production capacity was destroyed over the past two generations,” St. Peter said. “In five minutes, I can be at four stores and buy food brought in from many other places. But this time of year, it is hard to find local vegetables and meats. Maine needs to get the pieces of local production back together.”

Already some communities — Sedgwick and Penobscot — have passed local ordinances to allow direct sales of local food without state and federal licenses.

“Last year, we went to the Legislature and said we needed them to help us continue to do business, that state and federal regulations were preventing that,” St. Peter said.

He said that although there was support by some legislators, the farmers were told that federal subsidies often were tied to federal regulations.

“So we are taking things into our own hands,” St. Peter said.

Two of the proposed measures, LD 922 and LD 363, direct the Maine Department of Agriculture to take a look at any state laws or regulations that are impeding the production and marketing abilities of Maine’s food producers.

Rep. Diane Tilton, R-Harrington, is sponsoring LD 363, which would exempt fruit and vegetable growers from bottle redemption laws if they produce bottled beverages for sale, such as cider.

LD 330 would streamline direct sales between farmers and consumers by allowing people who prepare food in their homes to sell directly to consumers at events such as fairs and farmers markets without being licensed as food establishments. Kumiega said Thursday that he also will propose an amendment to the original bill that would require producers to have sanitary processes in place.

LD 738 — an emergency bill — defines a farm stand and requires that any product that is not grown by the person operating the farm stand must be labeled to identify the product’s origin.

Testimony will begin on the bills at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 22, in Room 206 of the Cross State Office building.

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