WARREN, Maine — Owner John Barnstein has run his Route 1 poultry business for nearly 30 years, providing roaster chickens to customers year-round and fresh turkeys for the holidays.
But Barnstein’s operations have run afoul of some federal and local regulations and he now is struggling to keep Maine-ly Poultry open.
The town issued a cease and desist order in March after an inspection by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that the processor did not have an approved wastewater system. That order was lifted on April 15, however, after the town determined that Barnstein was working in good faith to correct the problem.
The town and the Knox-Lincoln Cooperative Extension have been working with the poultry owner to come up with a solution and believe they have found it for a reasonable cost, Warren Town Manager Elaine Clark said Monday.
The system will need to be designed and installation will take about eight to 10 weeks, she said. Clark added that the cost of the system is expected to be in the tens of thousands of dollars, but far less than traditional systems.
Barnstein said Monday that he is moving forward with getting a new wastewater system and plans to continue handling and processing poultry in the meantime.
Once that hurdle is cleared, however, he still will have to scale back his business to comply with another federal regulation that he considers arcane. He explained that a law passed in 1957 limits poultry farmers to 20,000 birds without having a federal inspector on site.
Barnstein said he has been operating with more than 20,000 birds for more than 20 years while unaware of the restriction and it has never been an issue. Then when a federal inspector stopped by this year, the inspector informed Barnstein of the law and said he must downsize.
Barnstein declined to say how many birds he had been raising.
Criticizing the federal agency, he said it is odd that when there are recalls of meats, it is almost always at plants where there are federal inspectors on site.
Barnstein said he does not feed his birds antibiotics and raises them in barns with plenty of windows and fresh air.
He said the newly enforced restriction will cause him to end his wholesale business and to reduce the number of farmers markets he sells at from seven to five.
He said 20,000 chickens are not a lot, considering that if he can net a $1 profit on each chicken, he will make $20,000 annually.
“I’m not optimistic I can make this work,” he said.
Barnstein maintained that if the state was overseeing the process, he could work out a reasonable agreement but that once the federal government is involved, there is no chance of working out something. He said the law is backed by big businesses to reduce their competition from smaller producers.
“Big business and the government support it and in the end, the small farmer is screwed, for lack of a better word,” Barnstein said.
When contacted by the BDN for comment on Friday, a spokeswoman with the federal agriculture department said the agency would research the matter and get back to the newspaper.