Hawkins Family Farm chickens
Legislation prohibiting or restricting market access for local food producers is not about food safety but rather about eliminating competition for the industrial food system, often before local producers can get any traction in the market. There is no better example of this than what is currently playing out in Indiana. Big Ag and government agencies in alliance with it are supporting legislation that would prohibit the sale of on-farm processed poultry to restaurants and other food establishments.
Under current Indiana law, a farm receiving a “grant of exemption” from the Indiana Board of Animal Health (BOAH) can sell on-farm processed poultry to restaurants. There is only one farm that is currently operating under the exemption, Hawkins Family Farm of North Manchester, which is owned and operated by FTCLDF member Jeff Hawkins and his son, Zach.
For Big Ag and its allies, that is one farm too many. Ever since the Hawkins obtained the grant of exemption from BOAH in April 2015, Big Food has done whatever it could to take away Hawkins Family Farm’s restaurant business.1 The latest effort is House Bill 1267 (HB 1267), which would prohibit the sale of “uninspected” poultry to restaurants under the guise of food safety.2
So, who’s afraid of Hawkins Family Farm? On January 21 there was a hearing on HB 1267 before the Indiana House Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development. Those who showed up at the hearing to support the bill included the Indiana State Poultry Association, the nonprofit Indiana Pork, Indiana Beef Cattle Association, Indiana Farm Bureau, Purdue University Extension, BOAH, the Indiana Department of Agriculture, and the Indiana State Department of Health. If the supporters of the bill thought a vote to send the bill out of committee to the House floor was a done deal, they were mistaken. The committee tabled voting on the bill and rescheduled another hearing for January 28.
The reason the committee postponed the vote was convincing testimony from bill opponents showing that, possibly more than any other local food matter, on-farm processed poultry exposes the Big Food lie that legislation restricting market access is about food safety.
For the last 45 years, federal law has provided an exemption which Indiana and nearly all other states have adopted—at least to some extent—that allows those farmers who raise and process up to 20,000 birds a year to be exempt from the requirement that an inspector be present when slaughtering is taking place and conduct an ante-mortem and post-mortem inspection of the animals.3 A conservative estimate is that thousands of farmers around the country have processed poultry under the exemption, with a great record for safety. Few, if any, illnesses have been attributed to the consumption of on-farm processed poultry since the exemption has been in effect.
Indiana producers under the exemption who sell to restaurants are still regulated. Jeff Hawkins testified at the January 21 hearing that BOAH inspects his facility a minimum of twice a year and that his poultry operation must meet construction, sanitation, water quality, recordkeeping and labeling requirements.
By comparison, a report generated from CDC data from 1998–2008 identified poultry (read “poultry” as “inspected poultry”), out of 17 different food commodities, as responsible for the most deaths, the third most hospitalizations, and the fourth most cases of foodborne illness.4 The food safety record for inspected poultry indicates that inspection can provide a false sense of security for consumers.
In his testimony, Jeff Hawkins pointed out that in the month of July 2015 alone there were two instances of Class I High Risk recalls of conventionally inspected poultry at two million pounds each recall. By contrast, he testified that with his farm processing about 20,000 pounds of poultry annually, it would take 100 years of producing nothing but contaminated poultry to equal the effect of just one of these recalls of conventionally inspected poultry.
Hawkins Family Farm is a fourth generation 99-acre family farm located in Wabash County (The Wabash County Commissioners and Council have passed a resolution opposing HB 1267.5). As far as is known, the Hawkins have the first farm to receive a grant of exemption from BOAH since that agency received the power to issue exemptions from the state legislature back in 1996. Big Ag wants to put a stop to the grants of exemption and make sure the small farm community does not compete with the conventional poultry industry for the restaurant business.
That’s why the Indiana State Poultry Association and its allies are afraid of Hawkins Family Farm; they don’t want to see one farm with the grant of exemption turn into one hundred farms with the grant around the state. The threat of the loss of market share has moved them to play the food safety card and push HB 1267.
Indiana supporters of local food must take action to stop this attempt to reverse the progress made in the state. Please contact the members of the House Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development and tell them you oppose HB 1267.
1 Right after the Hawkins received the exemption last April, opponents tried to amend a law governing only sales of on-farm processed poultry direct to consumers, not realizing that Hawkins’ grant of exemption was covered under a separate law. When that effort failed, the Indiana State Department of Health issued both Hawkins Family Farm and its customer Joseph Decuis Restaurant a cease and desist letter on September 8 prohibiting the sale of the farm’s poultry to the restaurant. When the Indiana Attorney General’s office later issued an advisory opinion that the farm’s sales of on-farm processed poultry to the restaurant were legal, the department told the parties to disregard its order. See “Chicken Back on the Menu: Victory for FTCLDF Members in Indiana”. Posted at https://www.farmtoconsumer.org/blog/2015/12/08/20721/
2 Senator Jean Leising has introduced a companion bill in the Indiana Senate, SB 71. Posted at https://iga.in.gov/legislative/2016/bills/senate/71
3 Exemption under the Poultry Products Inspection Act (Public Law 90-492) in United States Code, 21 USC 464 (c). Posted at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/USCODE-2013-title21/html/USCODE-2013-title21-chap10-sec464.htm
4 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Painter JA, Hoekstra RM, Ayers T, Tauxe RV, Braden CR, Angulo FJ, et al. Attribution of Foodborne Illness, Hospitalizations and Deaths to Food Commodities by Using Outbreak Data, United States, 1998-2008. Emerging Infectious Diseases. Vol. 19, No. 3. Posted at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/19/3/11-1866_article
5 Wabash County Council and Board of Commissioners Resolution opposing HB 1267 (View PDF)
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