By Alaa Abdeldaiem
Editor’s note: This is the 23rd in a series of stories about new laws that are taking effect, most of them on July 1.
INDIANAPOLIS — The demand for locally grown and produced foods comes as no surprise to people like Kary Hacker. With four chickens in her Indianapolis backyard, Hacker calls herself an urban chicken farmer, one that depends on her own birds to provide her with what she needs.
“I’m obviously supportive of the push to purchase local foods by having my own chicken, but I’m also supportive of farmers markets and try to buy local when I can,” Hacker said. “I like to know how my food is raised or grown and know that it’s more fresh.”
As more began to follow such a trend, however, lawmakers found that the old system designed to keep food safe for consumers suddenly had flaws.
“Farms were trying to sell uninspected chickens to restaurants and schools and institutions,” Rep. Don Lehe, R-Indianapolis, said.
The issue led to a compromise between small poultry producers and food safety advocates, one that will be put to the test starting July 1.
The new law hopes to appease those in support of Indiana’s “farm-to-fork” movement—producing food locally and delivering it to local customers—while still ensuring that poultry sold directly off of local farms underwent proper food inspection.
Under current federal law, farmers who raise and process up to 20,000 birds a year are exempt from the requirement that an inspector be present when slaughtering is in effect once they complete an application process.
Similarly, prior state law allowed for farmers processing 1,000 birds or less a year to sell at farmer’s markets, roadside stands and directly off of local farms but not to schools or restaurants.
Those processing a number in between 1,000 and 20,000, however, were in what Lehe, the bill’s author, called a “dilemma.”
“[Farms] were technically violating the law because they were over 1,000 birds and below the 20,000,” Lehe said. “This bill—instead of completely disallowing that to happen like the original bill wanted to do—puts in some requirements that they have to meet to be able to sell even though they do not have their birds inspected individually.”
Under the new law, farms processing more than 1,000 birds will be allowed to receive limited permits to sell to restaurants, hotels, retail stores and other institutions if certain conditions are met. These conditions include:
- Notifying the board of its operating schedule
- Creating and following a food safety plan with an analysis of food safety hazards and ways to control them
- Having at least one person responsible at the farm with food safety certification
- Labeling poultry products according to proper rules
After rallying against the initial legislation in February, Hawkins Family Farm, which raises and processes about 4,000 chickens a year, supported the bill’s changes.
“A significant aspect of the future of Indiana involves the appeal of small-scale agriculture to young people who wish to farm,” the farm said in a statement. “We believe that efforts such as House Bill 1267—and we hope for more such scale-appropriate efforts—will encourage young people to remain in or move to Indiana to farm.”
Lehe hopes that the changes incorporated into the law will silence critics who argue that restrictions will alienate the competition.
“This was never about big agriculture versus small producers,” Lehe said. “That was not a part of the incentive to do something legislatively. It was totally about food safety and the expectation of consumers that their food supply is safe, and this law is a way to ensure that.”
Alaa Abdeldaiem is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.