WILLIAMSTOWN -- The Agricultural Commission plans to support a Massachusetts state representative's bill calling for loosening regulations in order to spur development of more meat and poultry processing plants in the state.
At the commission's meeting Thursday night, member Kim Wells said the commission should draft a letter to local legislators in support of HD-1736, "An act to strengthen the Massachusetts agricultural infrastructure relative to meat and poultry production and processing."
Members said the bill could benefit small farms throughout Berkshire County.
Member Lisa Demayo said the timing is right to support the bill, since many people in Berkshire County want to support local farmers.
"There's nothing better than eating meat raised out back," Demayo said.
Wells said the bill, sponsored by state Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, would increase the number of meat and poultry processing facilities in the state, thus making it easier for farmers to have their animals processed. He said the only United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspected meat facilities in the state are in Athol and Groton.
Wells said the reason for the small number of facilities is that the state turned over all meat inspection to the USDA.
"In other states like Vermont and New York, there's a combination of USDA and state inspection facilities," Wells said. "That's why there are more facilities and more choices."
But many other farmers in Massachusetts have to travel long distances to facilities.
Demayo said transporting animals such long distances is stressful for an animal, and stress before slaughter can affect the meat's flavor.
"If you get to have an experience of home raised and slaughtered beef, that flavor is really different from the cows that get on the truck," she said.
The bill would remove some of the oversight from the Department of Public Health (DPH) and put it entirely in the Department of Agricultural Resources, Wells explained.
The bill would leave local boards of health involved.
"The thought behind this is the [DPH] by its very nature is far more concerned with the safety of the citizens in Massachusetts, and not as focused on trying to develop an infrastructure for meat and poultry processing," he said.
Wells said Maine, Vermont and Connecticut have passed similar legislation.
"This is a step in the right direction," Wells said of the bill.
In other business, the Commission adopted a formal written position statement against affordable housing on conservation land in town.
The statement, written by member Sarah Gardner, acknowledged the Affordable Housing Committee's work for addressing the great need for more housing in town, but stressed such land should be taken out of conservation only as a last resort.
"Farms provide multiple public benefits, including keeping land open and preserves the pastoral beauty and rural character for which this town is known, and which Williamstown residents and visitors enjoy," the statement said.
The statement also says the town should do everything it can to keep the several local commercial farms in business.
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