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Oregon Bills Support Locally Grown Poultry

Supporters of small family farms and locally grown food in Oregon are backing three bills–the Farm Direct Bill, the Family Farm Act, and HB 2872–that address poultry processing.  (The matter is also covered in the omnibus Family Farm Act, HB 2222, which seeks to expand limits on raw milk production, among other provisions.)

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“In Oregon the only way for you to legally sell a processed chicken is to have it processed in your own state-inspected facility, which you have to build to specs and is allowed under the 20,000-bird exemption, which is part of federal law,” said Kendra Kimbirauskas, president of Friends of Family Farmers, a statewide organization.

“That facility could cost up to 100K, (according to) some producers that we’ve talked to in the state that have actually gone ahead and done this.  Or you can process your birds in a USDA facility,” she explained, adding that there is only one USDA facility in Oregon, and it just came online in the last few months.

Trying to understand the lace of federal regulations regarding poultry slaughter is not simple, but a glance at the industry’s history offers some perspective.

In the early 20th century, consumers processed their own birds, whether they raised the animals themselves or bought them live.  In the 1930s, the custom of selling birds “New York dressed” arose, which meant that the birds were bled and feathered.  In the years following World War II, demand for ready-to-cook birds vastly expanded the poultry industry.

Congress first introduced federal legislation on poultry processing in 1957 as the Wholesome Poultry Products Act. Also known The Poultry Products Inspection Act, the law provided standards for USDA continuous bird-by-bird inspection to ensure that chickens were handled safely en route to interstate or foreign commerce.  Amendments in 1967 and 1968 set rules for handling poultry bound for customers within a state, and established a number of exemptions from the daily federal inspection that was initially required.

Among these exemptions is the 20,000 bird limit, which Oregon currently follows.  The number refers to the amount of birds a single grower can process in one calendar year; processing must take place in a state-inspected, brick-and-mortar facility owned by the producer/grower.

The proposed legislation seeks to align Oregon with another exemption that allows producer/growers to process up to one thousand birds per calendar year.  The processing must be done on farm, and the poultry must be sold on farm.

“These bills are nearly identical and provide for small grower/producers to raise no more than 1,000 poultry — chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, and guineas — for slaughter and intrastate sale without being licensed or inspected,” said Jim Postlewait of the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Division.  “The poultry grower must slaughter and store poultry while protecting from adulteration (such as) dust, insects, etc.”

Many states currently allow poultry growers to use this exemption, but nothing makes dressing a chicken, let alone hundreds of chickens, simple or easy. Farmers have various solutions to this problem, including hiring help for slaughter days, and building or purchasing equipment, new or used, to simplify the many tasks involved.  In efforts to make processing possible for smaller scale poultry farms, mobile slaughter and processing facilities, also known as MSUs, have been developed and are in use.

“MSUs for poultry tend to be used by farmers operating under the 20,000 bird limit,” said Lauren Gwin, co-coordinator of the Niche Meat Processor Assistant Network.  “Federal law allows the MSU to be used by a set of farmers, each of whom does up to 20K birds per year, as long as each farmer does this on his/her own farm and follows all the other rules of that exemption.”

One such model was built in 2001 in Kentucky, a state that does not allow the federal exemption that Oregon is seeking.  The MSU is run by Kentucky State University and can process up to 400 birds in a day.  The mobile unit is not entirely mobile as it must be docked at a station to handle poultry, because of wastewater and other sanitary considerations.  The unit can also process aquaculture onsite where the fish are grown.

The result of a joint project of Heifer International, Kentucky State University, Partners for Family Farms and the National Center for Appropriate Technology, this MSU was partially funded by a USDA SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education) grant.

In other states, MSUs and MPPU (mobile poultry processing units) are truly mobile, available for rental for farms to use on site, with or without the guiding labor of a skilled processor.  The facilities are owned by a variety of private and public groups, and subject to either state or federal inspection.

Some mobile processing units are aimed at farmers who operate under the thousand-bird exemption, such as one built and used in south central New York State.  This model facility is meant to be used for one year as farmers gear up to build their own units.

In all of these instances, educational materials on safe processing in general and safe processing within a mobile slaughter environment are often provided through extension agencies, in the form of guides, webinars, and live classes.

A group that offers such services and serves small and mid-sized meat and poultry processors is the aforementioned national Niche Meat Processor Assistance Network (NMPAN).  Lauren Gwin and colleague Garry Stephenson are among the professionals in support of the legislation in Oregon.

“If the bill becomes law, there will be no formal inspection of farmers operating under this exemption,” said Gwin, who is also on the faculty Oregon State University in a research and extension appointment.  “However, they still have to follow the USDA basic rules, as written in the bill and explained in our letter. And USDA can pop in at any time, for example, if there is a complaint to make sure that the farmer isn’t breaking those rules, e.g. doing 2,000 birds/year, not keeping sales records, or creating an unsanitary cesspool of blood & feathers.”

© Food Safety News
  • Jim Schmidt

    I haven’t looked at the law so I’m not taking a position. I just have to take issue when people make comments that even though they aren’t regulated they still have to follow the law. Isn’t this the whole problem? The people that don’t follow the law. How many times are you passed on the highway doing 55 in a 55? How many times in a food facility does someone not wash their hands? How many times does greed come into the picture and make NOT following the law more rewarding. How many times does the human moral compass become offset and put profit before safety? Sorry, but looking the seller in their eyes does not tell you that they prefer your safety over money in their pocket.
    Just realize that when you exempt people from regulations that are meant to protect consumers you are eventually going to have hurt consumers. It may not be many in some areas and it may not be right away, but it will come. If society is willing to pay for those trade-offs so be it but society must be aware of those trade-offs.

  • http://www.healthyfoodcoalition.org hhamil

    Thanks for highlighting what can be the first step in rebuilding local meat production for local markets. I hope that OR has the good sense to follow the lead of states like NC and take advantage of this exemption.
    Please note that rabbits (one of the most efficient converters of vegetable protein into animal protein) can also be slaughtered under these exemptions.
    One of most important uses of these exemptions is to build production in a given geographic area to the point it becomes financially feasible to build a full poultry/rabbit slaughter facility. A MSU partially funded by Heifer International has been available for several years helping to grow production in and round McDowell County, NC. FSN has recently published a listing for the general manager’s job at the new processor being built near Nebo, NC. Without the exemption, it probably never would have been built.
    These have been so successful that last year the State of NC increased the volumes permitted up to the 20,000 maximum.
    For more info on these exemptions see http://www.extension.org/pages/Understanding_Poultry_Exemptions.

  • Doc Mudd

    What sort of duct-tape and baling wire food production is being promoted here?
    This type of silly dawbing around is to become the great savior of the planet, the grand prototype agricultural source of succor to upwards of 7 billion humans each and every day?
    And it is all so tenuous that broad exemptions and generous grants are necessary to support it? It isn’t even self-supporting, not ‘sustainable’ after all the brave, wishful postulating and posturing?
    You damned fools simply cannot be serious. If we aren’t merely being asked to subsidize your hobby farming and food snobbery, then surely you amateur duffers intend to gradually poison and starve us all into a 3rd world standard of living.

  • http://www.healthyfoodcoalition.org Harry Hamil

    Thanks for highlighting what can be the first step in rebuilding local meat production for local markets. I hope that OR has the good sense to follow the lead of states like NC and take advantage of this exemption.
    Please note that rabbits (one of the most efficient converters of vegetable protein into animal protein) can also be slaughtered under these exemptions.
    One of most important uses of these exemptions is to build production in a given geographic area to the point it becomes financially feasible to build a full poultry/rabbit slaughter facility. A MSU partially funded by Heifer International has been available for several years helping to grow production in and round McDowell County, NC. FSN has recently published a listing for the general manager’s job at the new processor being built near Nebo, NC. Without the exemption, it probably never would have been built.
    These have been so successful that last year the State of NC increased the volumes permitted up to the 20,000 maximum.
    For more info on these exemptions see http://www.extension.org/pages/Understanding_Poultry_Exemptions.

  • http://www.locallygrown.org Rebecca Landis

    The Farm Direct Bill, HB 2336, does NOT have poultry provisions or any meat or dairy for that matter.
    The bills may have supporters in common, but that’s not a reason to conflate them.

  • k.e.

    I’m not familiar with the oregon state inspection requirements, but I’d like ot know where the USDA inspected poultry facility is….

  • Mike Higby

    You better make sure to be a good sheeple then, Dr. Mudd, and get your subsidized corn fed, factory chicken from the grocery store. Don’t worry, the toothless FDA and corporate run USDA will protect you. As long as corn is subsidized and energy is cheap, your low quality chicken will be too.