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Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Ind. Gov't. - "Farm to fork" concept is target of HB 1267

HB 1267, which passed 2nd reading yesterday, is the focus of an editorial today in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, headed "Small-farm threat: Big Ag bill betrays state's agricultural heritage." Some quotes:

Hawkins Family Farm surely fits the image most Hoosiers have of an Indiana farm. Four generations have worked the 99-acre Wabash County farm, most recently nurturing a growing business raising and processing poultry for area restaurants.

But a bill before the General Assembly would prohibit Hawkins from selling to restaurants, ostensibly in the name of food safety.

House Bill 1267 is an effort to protect the market for Big Ag, though. It threatens both the growing farm-to-fork movement and the appeal of farming for a new generation of Hoosiers committed to smaller and safer farming methods.

Under state law, Indiana farmers who raise and process fewer than 20,000 birds a year are exempt from some requirements placed on large-scale producers. Small farms can sell poultry directly to consumers and restaurants, although a farmer who wants to sell to a customer other than an end consumer must obtain a “grant of exemption” from the State Board of Animal Health.

Jeff and Zach Hawkins, the father-and-son team behind Hawkins Family Farm, obtained the exemption last April. To date, theirs is the only one in effect, but Jeff Hawkins said they’ve heard from others interested in following their lead.

The editorial continues at length, and concludes:
The appeal of the farm-to-fork movement is found in the small-scale operation established by the Wabash County farmers. Consumers increasingly want food produced close to home, by farmers they know and trust.

Hawkins Family Farm invested in equipment and poultry stock in good faith, following state regulations. The effort to shut down its sales to Indiana restaurants – a tiny share of agricultural sales statewide – betrays not only our farming roots, but also the promise small-scale farming holds for young Hoosiers interested in embracing that part of Indiana’s history.

The Wabash Plain Dealer on Jan. 27th had a news story by Mackenzi Klemann; here is just a sample:

“One of the things this exemption provides us is the flexibility to butcher our birds based on the birds at the farm, not some third party,” Jeff Hawkins said, noting that farm to fork legislation passed by State Sen. Jim Banks (R-Columbia City), who represents Wabash County, in 2014 led him to begin selling his birds to area restaurants.

After working with the Indiana Board of Animal Health for nearly a year, Hawkins said, he and Zach were able to construct a small slaughter house at the farm to accommodate state regulations and business needs.

Hawkins explained that, for him and his son Zach, who rely on part-time weekend help to slaughter nearly 200 birds per week during the producing season, it’s difficult to transport the birds to state-inspected slaughter facilities.

“We really thought we had a success story,” he said, noting that he believes operations at his farm are safer than those at industrial-scale regulatory slaughterhouses.

But in September of 2015, the Hawkins Family Farm and Joseph Decuis, a Roanoke restaurant, were issued a cease and desist letter from the Indiana State Department of Health after legislators discovered that poultry slaughtered on the farm was being sold to the restaurant without an inspector on-site.

“It’s difficult for me to say hold on, you want to be farm to fork, you want your food to be of good quality, so why wouldn’t you let an inspector on your property,” Leising told the Plain Dealer about the issue. “There wouldn’t be this fight and it would still be farm to fork … it would make it safe under the scientific standards of today.”

The Indiana Attorney General’s Office in November issued a report stating that under current federal and state law, the Hawkins Family Farm could resume the sale of its inspection-exempt poultry, however.

Leising, who is chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said that she does not understand why the Hawkins family and area restaurants are fighting so hard against her proposed regulation, filed under Senate Bill 71 and House Bill 1267.

The Hawkins, however, believe operations at their farm are safer than those of industrial-scale operations and question why Indiana legislators are fighting against an innovative movement in agriculture.

“The point that we’re making is that we’re very transparent,” Zach Hawkins said. “The inspector becomes more valuable as the distance between the producer and the consumer grows. We’re not against inspection or regulation … But here, it’s part of a very small system and so some of those regulatory mechanisms that have been developed for a big system don’t apply. Again it doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be any kind of an inspection system, but what we’re describing, this relationship between producer, consumer and government that amounts to an inspection system, it’s just a different kind.”

“We don’t want to give the impression that somehow we have a perfect system,” Jeff Hawkins said. “We take sanitation very seriously … but when you’re dealing with food, anything can happen anywhere.”

For background, see this Sept. 28, 2015 ILB post quoting a story by Maureen Hayden in the Kokomo Tribune.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on February 2, 2016 09:29 AM
Posted to Indiana Government