Note: This article was originally published Sept 19, 2013.
Small poultry and rabbit farmers throughout the state may have the opportunity to expand next year thanks to a rule change proposed this summer by the WV Department of Agriculture. Currently farmers are limited to slaughtering and processing just 1,000 poultry per year on their farms without bird-by-bird inspection. If a farmer wants to sell more than 1,000 birds in a calendar year he or she must use a commercial processor. However, the state has no commercial processor serving small farmers. Farmers must either take a long and costly trip across state lines or limit their production to 1,000 birds.
After hearing from farmers throughout the state and meeting with representatives from the WV Food & Farm Coalition, Commissioner Walt Helmick and WVDA’s Meat and Poultry Inspection Division Director Dr. Pitts agreed that West Virginia needs more options for on-farm poultry slaughter. Last month WVDA submitted a rule change to the Secretary of State that would allow farmers and small processors to slaughter up to 20,000 birds per year without needing an inspector present. This 20,000 bird exemption has been allowed for some time by USDA, but WV was not taking advantage of it. WVDA also submitted a proposed rule allowing farmers to process up to 1,000 rabbits per year on their farm without inspection of each animal.
It is important to note that neither rule has taken effect yet. Under West Virginia law, administrative rules (also called regulations), like the poultry and rabbit inspection exemptions, are submitted by state agencies over the summer, bundled together with a long list of other proposed rules, then voted on by the Legislature during the following session. If the rule changes submitted by WVDA are approved by the legislature, they will take effect between April and September of 2014. The WV Food & Farm Coalition will provide updates as the rule changes move through the legislative process. For an overview of the rulemaking process, written for WVFFC by Alison Peck of WVU College of Law, click here. You can also view a letter that the Food & Farm Coalition sent to the WVDA supporting the poultry rule change here; and another supporting the rabbit rule here.