Scottish highland cattle wander the pasture in Orland. Credit: Aislinn Sarnacki

When it comes to supporting the state’s farmers by buying locally raised meat or poultry, meat labeled “Maine Raised” might seem to consumers to indicate the animals were born, raised and slaughtered in Maine. But that may not be the case. Presently it’s legal for businesses to import animals from out of state, kill them here and sell them as “Maine Raised” meat. A proposal before the legislature is aiming to change that.

LD 351: An Act to Ensure Accuracy in the labeling of Maine Meat and Poultry would require livestock such as beef, pork or lamb be born and raised solely in the state and poultry be raised in the state from no later than seven days after hatching before it could be labeled and advertised as Maine raised.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. William Pluecker, D-Warren, who runs Hatchet Cove Farm in Warren with his wife Reba Richardson.

“I was approached by [a Maine farmer] who told me about the stories going around in the farming community for years of people importing animals from out of state, slaughtering them in state and selling them as ‘Maine raised’ meat,” Pluecker said. “Consumers were going to local stores, purchasing products they thought were supporting local farmers and going home with meat raised out of state.”

Aaron Bell of Tide Mill Organic Farm in Edmunds in testifying in favor of the bill last month said false labeling violates the trust of the consumers who support local farmers.

“We all suffer the consequences of misleading labeling,” Bell, an eighth-generation farmer, said. “Consumers deserve transparency. It is their support of our integrity that keeps us in business.”

It’s basic common sense legislation, according to Andy Smith, owner of the Milk House Farm in South Monmouth, who also testified in favor of LD351.

“Consumers seeking out local goods believe they are supporting the farmer down the road,” Smith said. “But increasingly animals are from outside the state are being trucked in for slaughtering.”

Costs to raise meat in those states are often less than the costs faced by Maine farmers, Smith said.

“So they can sell meat labeled as raised in Maine for less money than Maine farmers can,” Smith said. “This has to stop.”

The bill does include protections for Maine’s meat processors, Pluecker said.

“As [Maine] farmers they are dependent on [Maine] slaughterhouses and processors to process their meat so that it can be sold to local customers,” Pluecker said. “Farmers have not wanted to indirectly harm the processors that make money by handling these out of state animals by reducing their business from out of state [so] we have included protections for Maine state processors in this bill, because they are so vital for the state’s livestock industry.”

At the same time, Pluecker is committed to protecting the “Maine Raised” brand.

“Consumers must be able to know that when something is labelled ‘Maine Raised’ that [their] dollars are going to Maine farmers,” Pluecker said. “And they want to know their dollars aren’t being sent out of state.”

The legislation is currently with the legislature’s agriculture, conservation and forestry committee where members are fine tuning the language before voting to send it on to the Maine House and Senate.

Pluecker is confident his bill, that was overwhelmingly supported during last month’s testimony, will make its way out of committee for a vote in the Maine House and Senate, once a few more details are ironed out around enforcement.

“There is broad support for this bill,” he said. “This is good for farmers, consumers and our local food movement [and] trust in the Maine brand is central to it all.”

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Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.