Lawmakers, Farmers Pleased With Newly-Amended Chicken Bill

Feb 26, 2016

Credit Jonathan Nightengale / https://www.flickr.com/photos/johnath/

State lawmakers and small farmers appear to have reached a compromise over previously contentious legislation regarding who can sell chickens to restaurants and other institutions.

Currently, producers slaughtering 20,000 birds of fewer annually are limited to “household consumer” sales…that means they can sell through farmers markets, at roadside stands or directly out of their operations.

However, those farms are eligible to be granted exemptions from the State Board of Animal Health, who inspects slaughtering procedures, which would allow them to sell to institutions such as restaurants and grocery stores.

Citing public health concerns, lawmakers in the House drafted a bill deeming those small-scale poultry farms wouldn’t be allowed to sell their meat to restaurants and other institutions, even if they were exempt.

Smaller producers and local food advocates revolted, even creating a twitter hashtag, #keepchickenonthemenu.

The furor produced a newly-amended version of the bill, revised with help from Lieutenant Governor Sue Ellspermann. It keeps the exemption opportunity in place, but enacts more oversight from the Board of Animal Health.

Ellspermann says the amended bill means the regulations now have more in common with restaurant health requirements than those intended for huge food processing plants.

“[Restaurants] have a procedure they follow, they train individuals in their restaurants that must be certified in food handling and food safety,” she explains. “Much like that, this bill will…ensure each farm will have a person trained in food safety and they will follow a food safety plan.”

South Bend Democrat and bill co-sponsor David Niezgodski points out the Board of Animal Health is allowed to inspect facilities under the new bill, too.

“The Board of Animal Health is still going to have jurisdiction, and in the end they’re going to say you’re doing this in conformance in what we feel is necessary or you are not,” he says.

Currently only one Indiana poultry producer, Hawkins Family Farm of North Manchester, has been granted a BOAH exemption.

Niezgodski says the bill was in no way targeted at the business, but says the regulations needed to be put in place to keep diners safe:

“The bottom line is, if you go into a restaurant, anyone who goes into that restaurant, they feel what they’re going to eating has to be safe,” he says. “We’re trying to regulate across the board in a way that’s fair, reasonable and ensures you have your food quality and consumers are protected.”

Hawkins Family Farm led the charge against the original version of the bill, but is so pleased with the way the amended version turned out, it has offered to work with the BOAH as a so-called “example farm.”

“If this bill passes I think it could really a sign from the legislature that they’re willing to consider the scale of a farm when it comes to regulation,” says Zach Hawkins. “They’re not going to go with the one-sized fits all approach, and that’s very promising for the future of small farmers and farm-to-table restaurants and ….the regional local food movement in Indiana.”

The amended bill sailed through a Senate committee this week and now goes to the floor.