Daily Catch

How unworkable government rules separate man from his bacon

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Farmer Randy Canarr of Souder Station Farm has been farming and raising livestock in Winterport for almost 10 years, providing locally-raised meats, cheeses, honey, and maple syrup to the greater Penobscot Bay community. He started the farm after returning from U.S. Army active duty, and the birth of his son, Nate, in 2011. Souder Station is a small, family-operated Maine farm, supporting the beautiful way of life that Maine provides for those of us lucky enough to call it home.

According to their website, Souder Station Farm’s mission is to provide the highest quality, ecologically-sustainable foods to the community, with a heartfelt promise from Canarr that “if I would not give it to my son, I would not give it to you.”

In order to save his hard work, Canarr now finds himself in a dispute with the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry (DACF) over a rule that the Department says requires them to seize and destroy 100 pounds of smoked pork products that were mislabeled during the processing phase of meat production, the Bangor Daily News reports

Maine state food rules dictate that in order for meat to be sold commercially, farmers must  ensure that it has been tracked all the way from farm to slaughter to packaging, freezing and shelving, with the appropriate dates and times marked for each milestone along the way.

After Canarr’s pigs were slaughtered at his preferred state-licensed meat processor, the pork products were incorrectly labeled, triggering enforcement action from DACF. The Department has ruled that not only will the 100 pounds of smoked bacon be banned from sale at market, it must be rendered completely inedible by being doused with bleach. Not only that, DACF has “retained” two more of Randy’s pigs until a determination can be made on the status of the rest of his meat products.

In a passionate plea to a compliance officer at DACF, Canarr said that in order to save his work and property, he will sign an affidavit ensuring that the mislabeled meat will not be sold at market, and will be only used in his personal food supply.

Does the state have a compelling interest to seize and destroy property because of a labeling issue? Understanding that food safety rules exist to protect the health and safety of consumers, DACF has a right to argue this point since its rules were not followed.

The meat could be considered a health issue and therefore be banned from public sale, but these little piggies never made it to market, and therefore never became a consumer safety issue (not that they really could have, anyway). The only thing wrong with this pork was that it was incorrectly labeled by a third-party processor.

Why shouldn’t Canarr and his son be able to keep the food they raised on his own property, by his own labor? What recourse does he have? Can he sue the state to get his property back and potentially change the rule?

The Maine Meat Inspection Program (MMPI) rules are classified as “routine technical” rules instead of “major substantive,” so the Department can alter them without legislative review. One could surmise that, given the lower threshold for altering its regulations, DACF could correct this egregious rule fairly quickly.

But, maybe this is something that must be remedied by legislative action. The Second Session of the Maine Legislature will be starting soon, and this issue seems to be a perfect example of “emergency legislation.” Given the amount of bills that are put up as “emergency” but are just a finessing of the English language to move a legislator’s pet project through the process, changing this rule as soon as possible would be a great step toward respecting local control of food, private property rights, and a re-commitment to food safety rules that truly protect public health and safety.

A member of Maine’s legislature should submit this rule change as a bill to the Legislative Council and it should be heard in the Second Session. Could this be the beginning of the bipartisan Maine Farm Freedom Caucus? 

Who will be the one to stand up for small farms and let Farmer Randy bring home the bacon?

About Nick Murray

Nick is the Outreach Coordinator at The Maine Heritage Policy Center, working to plan events, engage with supporters, and spread the word about MHPC's work to new audiences around the state.

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