Mass. farm bills would allow raw milk delivery, protect honeybees, and boost slaughterhouses

Trevor Blake of Northfield with his 1935 Farmall. A slew of bills on Beacon Hill aim to cut through red tape impeding the growth and sustainability of Massachusetts farms. (Mary Serreze photo)
By Mary Serreze | Special to The Republican on December 28, 2015 at 10:00 AM, updated December 28, 2015 at 10:04 AM

The Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation is backing a slate of 15 bills in the 2015-16 legislative session, many of which seek to remove red tape that gets in the way of running small farms.

The measures would remove roadblocks to opening slaughterhouses, rein in local boards of health, create a farm-friendly plumbing code, move toward state standards for the humane treatment of livestock, allow farmers to deliver raw milk, and establish a committee to protect honeybees.

There are only two USDA-inspected red meat slaughterhouses in the state, and only one poultry processing facility, at a time when demand for local meat is growing.

A bill filed by State Rep. Stephen Kulik, D- Worthington, H.711, would shift oversight of meat processing facilities from the Dept. of Public Health to the Dept. of Agriculture. The federation says the DPH does not have a good working relationship with the agricultural community, and that the state agriculture department is the better vehicle for both protecting health and supporting farms. The federation cites "regulatory uncertainty and quagmire" as a major impediment to opening new meat processing facilities in Massachusetts.

An act to promote farm viability tackles inappropriate regulations imposed by local boards of health. The bill would require that health regulations impacting farming be approved by local agricultural commissions. The federation identified inappropriate health regulations as a roadblock to the sustainability of agriculture in the state.

A measure by Sen. Ann Gobi, D-Spencer, would allow farmers to deliver raw milk to consumers. Current law prohibits unpasteurized milk from being sold anywhere other than on the farm where it was produced. The bill, S.419, was heard by the joint committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture in October.

Under H.713, a Livestock Care and Standards Board would establish guidance and regulations governing the care and keeping of farm animals. Massachusetts farmers want to be able to point to a local system where humane issues are discussed in an open public forum, according to the federation. The bill also received a hearing in October.

Other proposed measures would let farmers use all terrain vehicles on public roads to visit their crops and animals, update the state plumbing code to accommodate farm operations, clarify tax issues for farmers, protect piggeries, and grant more authority to municipal agricultural commissions.

Finally, an act to ensure the proper stewardship of honeybees would establish an advisory committee to evaluate the effectiveness of regulations and policies relevant to protecting bee populations in the state. Concerns over the loss of honeybees and their ability to pollinate crops have been noted globally, nationally, and statewide. H.731 was introduced by Rep. Keiko Orrall, R-Lakeville.

Mary Serreze can be reached at