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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Chicken Bill

As the Vermont Legislature rapped up its session a week ago, news and opinions have dominated the prognosis of the recent energy bill and the last minute education compromise; however important agriculture legislation has barely received a bleep on the radar screen. THE VIABILITY OF VERMONT AGRICULTURE, H522 not only has passed the Vermont House and Senate but has just been signed by Governor Douglass.

There are many parts to this bill that deserve recognition but to many observers, this bill had one outstanding provision and that was in regards to poultry provisions. Thus to many, it was known as the Chicken Bill. As of today small scale Vermont farmers (producers of less than 1,000 birds per year), will be able to sell their poultry directly to consumers at the farm and farmers markets, as well as local restaurants without going through the high regulatory barriers of state inspection.

Myself as a vegetarian, I am ecstatic about its passage for a number of reasons. As a personal reference, I began a vegetarian diet as a general disapproval of the large scale farm industry that has manipulated the raising of meats to a factory like setting. The meats consumers receive in a supermarket do not represent meats found in the natural world. Animals in a factory farm system are feed unnatural diets, injected with dangerous hormones and bread for specific genetic qualities. As well, in addition most animals are systematically confined to small areas for their entire lives and are forced to live an unnatural live. Even so called large scale “free range” produced animals are just given limited access to the natural environment. One could debate the philosophical questions of this practice, but as a consumer there are stark differences to industrial produced meats compared to those of naturally raised meats whether it is with taste or the health attributes.

In addition, to my ethical and health concerns of industrialized meats, the current large scale farming procedures are just not environmentally sustainable. The average American meal travels 1,500 miles and those added costs are producing higher levels of carbon. Current American trends of a fast food diet of 4,500 calories demands ten times as much energy in fossil fuels to produce. So what is needed is a more balanced sustainable approach to agriculture and that entails fostering a local and natural based agricultural system.

For farmers, the bill is a great economic boost. The high cost of processing birds just did not make sense for small scale producers. They were stifled by regulations set in place to protect the public from the harms of industrialized producers. Instead now with the advent of the bill’s passage farmers can diversify their farm and not only become more economically stable they can become more ecologically balanced. As a direct result farmers are given greater opportunities to profit while at the same time protecting our treasured rural landscape. Fostering local farms protect the land from being turned into sub developments since they are becoming more economically viable.

The passage of THE VIABILITY OF VERMONT AGRICULTURE is an important step forward in creating a sound environmentally sustainable environment. I hope that we see more proactive measures coming from our government in helping fostering ideas like this to move forward. Our food resources are as important as the air we breathe, so big thanks goes to the Vermont House and Senate Agriculture Committees for diligently working on these issues and for Governor Douglass signing the bill. Oh, yeah and yes I will eat chicken again, but only locally from a farmer I know.

Robb Kidd

“Were the walls of our meat industry to become transparent, literally or even figuratively, we would not long continue to raise, kill, and eat animals the way we do.” Michael Pollan, author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma


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