AUBURN — A new food-bank policy designed to keep spoiled food from being consumed by humans has caught a Poland pig farmer short.
Beginning Oct. 1, the Good Shepherd Food-Bank will not give spoiled, expired or otherwise bad food to local pig farmers unless they are licensed by the state.
But state agriculture officials say they don't license most small pig farms and have no intention of doing it.
"That means that we're caught in middle," said Shelly LeBlond, a Poland farmer with five pigs. "All I'm asking for is some sort of middle ground. I'd even be willing to get a license or buy some sort of membership fee, but there isn't one available. And nobody is willing to budge."
Paul Tarr, director of facilities and fleet at the Good Shepherd warehouse in Auburn, said the food bank has given free spoiled food to pig farmers for years. That included dented cans of vegetables, spoiled produce, moldy bread and packaged cereal that has passed its expiration date.
"But we know that historically, we've had problems with people abusing that and putting some of that pig food on their shelves and selling it," Tarr said. "Right now, we're just trying to get a handle on that and make sure we know where our pig food is going."
Tarr said the food bank signs contracts with its providers, agreeing to ensure that no spoiled or expired food will end up being consumed by people.
"We don't have the manpower to verify that every pig farmer is actually using the food we give them to feed pigs," Tarr said. "That's why we've adopted this new policy."
He said he began notifying the smaller pig farmers about a month ago.
Dr. Don Hoenig, Maine state veterinarian, said the state only licenses pig farms if they feed their animals garbage that includes meat. According to the federal Swine Health Protection Act, licensed pig farms also must prove that they are heating the meat-laced feed past 212 degrees for 30 minutes.
"It sounds like most of the smaller farmers were getting cereal and out-of-date bread," Hoenig said. "Pig farmers like that because it makes good feed. But it's not something that needs to be licensed, unless they start including meat. Otherwise, I think it's just a waste of a license."
Hoenig said neither the state nor local federal officials have the staff to inspect every small pig farm.
"I'd suggest finding some other way to document what people are doing with the pig slop," he said.
Tarr said he plans to contact the four licensed pig farms in Maine to see if they are willing to take the food bank's spoiled goods. If not, it will be sent to the incinerator at Mid-Maine Waste Action Corp. in Auburn for disposal.
"I feel bad for the pig farmers, but we have to protect ourselves," Tarr said. "The best way for us to do that is to require a state license."
LeBlond said she and her husband were stocking up on as much free food as they could. When it's gone, they'll feed table scraps to their pigs, from their own table and those of neighbors and friends.
"But I don't know what we'll do in the winter," she said. "I'll sign anything they want, to prove this is for my pigs."