New regulations for poultry produced in Utah take effect to mixed reviews

Posted at 9:47 PM, Nov 26, 2015
and last updated 2015-11-26 23:47:15-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- Shayn Bowler believes in raising, and selling, local.

“Here we raise natural meats of all kinds,” Bowler explained about his operation at Utah Natural Meat. “Beef, pork, lamb, goat, chicken, turkey, eggs.”

While most of his meat is slaughtered off-site, he processes his own chickens.

“We probably did 4,000 chickens total over this past year,” he said.

He said he’s one of the few poultry butcher shops in the state. Under Utah law, unless a producer like Bowler had a facility like his, they couldn’t produce and sell poultry.

“There are quite a few who would like to raise chickens if only there was a place to have them harvested,” he said.

That’s why he and Danny McDowell from McDowell Family Farm approached the state earlier this year.

“There was about 10 of us local producers and people involved in the local food system,” McDowell said. "They wanted to talk about finding a way to give more farmers access to harvesting."

Bowler said, “The idea was proposed that a facility such as this one be used for multiple farms, where they can bring their birds in, follow the same procedures.”

The state said it took that meeting and ran with it.

“We worked with the USDA to try to streamline and relax some of the processing requirements,” said Larry Lewis, Public Information Officer with the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food.

That change took effect this week. Small farmers can now share a facility to process poultry.

“It appears like it may be a good thing,” McDowell said.

Bowler echoed the same initial positive outlook: “It is a much-needed change."

But, beyond that, each has more reservations about the law change than good sentiments.

Bowler imagines he’ll get requests to use his equipment. Before he starts lending it out, he has a lot of questions.

Like, “How the state intends to enforce multiple users of one facility.”

Bowler doesn’t think the state can keep up with that enforcement. Specifically, when it comes to one of the law’s provisions that states producers must give five days of notice to the state regarding where and when they intend to process their meat.

He wasn’t sure if the state would need to show up every time to watch the process.

“I don't believe that they'd be well-staffed enough to do that,” he said.

McDowell also had doubts of his own.

“They want to add all these rules and complications,” he said of the new provisions that come along with the law change.

Lewis said they’re still trying to keep regulation as tight as possible, to make sure these facilities are clean if they’re being shared.

The producer needs to inspect all food-contact surfaces, and maintain proper temperature, among a number of other things.

Farmers also need to keep a written recall plan should something go awry.

“Any relaxation of those kinds of rules have to be weighed against what is the effect on food safety,” he said. “If we’re releasing and relaxing in one area, are we threatening the consumers in another area? So there's a balance there.”

It’s a balancing act the state hoped it found with the new law. But it’s had a tough time convincing the producers this law was made for, that this is the best answer.

McDowell said he’d like to see the law go even further, and is pushing for a Food Freedom Bill, similar to one recently passed in Wyoming.

It allows farmers to sell directly to consumers without involving state inspections or regulation.