Farmers push legislative priorities on Beacon Hill

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STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, MARCH 31, 2015….As more Massachusetts residents buy their food directly from local farmers, farmers want state lawmakers and regulators to help them keep up with the demand.

Massachusetts ranks fifth in the nation for direct sales from farmers to consumers, according to Sen. Anne Gobi, a Democrat from Spencer.

Gathered for the annual Agriculture Day at the State House, farmers and others in the agriculture business drew attention Tuesday to their industry and some of the problems farmers face in Massachusetts.

Richard Bonanno, who operates a family farm in Methuen, said there is tremendous demand for local meat, but insufficient production capacity in Massachusetts to meet consumer demand.

There are only two USDA-approved slaughterhouses in the state, both in north central Massachusetts, and no USDA-inspected poultry processing facilities, according to the Mass Farm Bureau Federation Inc.

“The demand for local meat is so great farmers in this state are going out of state to have animals slaughtered, or in some cases they are scheduling the slaughter of animals that aren’t even born yet because of the backlog,” Bonanno, who is the president of the Farm Bureau Federation, told the News Service during the event.

Bonanno said state public health officials have not moved fast enough to allow farmers to expand the number of slaughterhouses in the state.

The Farm Bureau Federation is backing legislation (H 711) filed by Rep. Stephen Kulik (D-Worthington) that would transfer regulatory authority of slaughter and meat processing from the Department of Public Health to the Department of Agriculture. The Farm Bureau Federation says giving authority to agriculture officials would eliminate regulatory uncertainty, and help boost the industry.

Maine, Vermont, and Connecticut have passed similar legislation, enabling the number of slaughterhouses and processing facilities to double in those states within a few years, according to the farm bureau.

Farmers are also worried about the loss of honey bees and the ability to pollinate crops, according to Bonanno.

A critical link to agriculture, honey bees across the nation and internationally are experiencing a mysterious problem known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), according to the United States Department of Agriculture website. The syndrome is defined as a dead colony with no adult bees or dead bee bodies with a live queen bee, and typically honey and immature bees still present. Scientists have not found a cause for the disorder.

Regulations and policies to protect the health of the honey bee population in the state have not been evaluated in decades, according to the Farm Bureau Federation.

The Farm Bureau Federation is pushing a bill (H 731), filed by Rep. Keiko Orrall (R-Lakeville) that would create an advisory committee of beekeepers, scientists, and farmers to evaluate state efforts around protecting honey bees and to suggest changes and updates.

Copyright 2015 State House News Service

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