Winterport farmer Randy Canarr this week got the news he’s been hungry for: his bacon will be saved.
About 100 pounds of his specialty smoked meat has been in dire jeopardy since earlier this summer, when state regulators told him it needed to be doused with bleach and destroyed because of a paperwork problem at the meat processor. But the meat was released to him on Monday after he signed an affidavit guaranteeing he would keep it for his own use and not sell it to customers.
“We found a way we could all work it out,” the farmer said Wednesday, adding that he felt buoyed by the support he’s received. “We didn’t realize how many friends of ours we had with freezers who were willing to help us out. The overall response has been 100 to one, positive to negative.”
Canarr told the BDN in July that officials from the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry said they felt badly about the need for bleaching but that there were problems with the paper trail that is required by law to show when and how the pigs were slaughtered, chilled, smoked and so on. Although there was nothing wrong with the meat, the paperwork issue meant he could not sell it to customers he meets at the Hampden Farmers Market or find him at Souder Station Farm, where he raised the pigs from piglets.
The farmer said last month he could understand not being allowed to sell it, but the destruction of his bacon, smoked shoulder and other smoked products felt like too much. Others who learned of his plight largely agreed with him, including politicians such as state Rep. Scott Cuddy, D-Winterport, state Sen. Erin Herbig, D-Belfast, and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, whose offices reached out to state regulators.
“I have been working closely with Randy and officials in the Department to try to find a way to save his bacon,” Cuddy said at the time. “This pork is Randy’s personal property and, if he isn’t selling it to the public and it’s safe to eat, he should be able to keep it for himself.”
Herbig also issued a statement of support.
“Farmers like Randy are integral members of our communities who deserve our full support,” she wrote in July. “I will continue to work to swiftly resolve this issue so that our farmers can focus on creating local jobs and quality products across Waldo County.”
Canarr said his problem seemed to be a rare one in today’s heated political environment in that it brought people together. He even received calls of support from vegans, who said that while they oppose using animals for food, they felt that destroying the meat would mean the pigs died for no reason.
“Having the vegans call up, and all these people with different political views and identities was great,” Canarr said this week. “People were very aligned, for different reasons. I was surprised by that.”
He also was relieved the state has given him back the meat from two other pigs that he had brought to be processed earlier this summer. Officials had retained the meat until a determination about the processing could be made, and recently had it re-inspected, repackaged and re-labeled under the eye of an inspector.
“I’ll be at Hampden market on Friday with bacon to sell,” Canarr said.
In general, he believes that what happened to him was unusual, saying that an official from the Division of Quality Assurance and Regulations told him that it was the first time she had ever run into this issue during her time at the department.
“It seemed like it had never been brought to light before,” the farmer said. “I hope I never have to deal with it again. I hope it’s one and done for me.”
Canarr said that if there is a need for future legislative action, he’d be glad to be involved, although right now he is just looking forward to getting back to the business of farming. He agrees with the notion of food sovereignty, and cheers the fact that a growing number of Maine municipalities have adopted ordinances that allow them to regulate local food systems. He also sees that food safety regulation is important to protect the health of consumers.
“I’m not sure what the answer is, but I’m interested in the discussion,” he said. “I’m more than happy to help when I can to help protect the rights of farmers.”
Still, in the short term, the state’s decision means that pork is what’s for dinner at his house tonight, and will be on the menu a lot in the future.
“We’ve got some family barbecues coming up,” he said. “And we go through a lot of bacon.”
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