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Local legislators’ bill concerning health, agriculture now law

  • NATALIE BLAIS

  • ADAM HINDS

  • Emily Niedziela of Hadley works at Route 9 Farmstand in Hadley, Wednesday, Set. 2, 2020. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO



Staff Writer
Monday, January 25, 2021

A bill filed by two local legislators giving farmers, farm stands, farmers markets and others involved in agriculture a say in the development of local health regulations was signed into law this week.

State Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, and state Rep. Natalie Blais, D-Sunderland, filed the bill (S2446), which gives agricultural commissions input on boards of health regulations, requiring local boards to consider comments and recommendations from their town’s or city’s agricultural commissions when they are developing regulations relating to farming and agriculture.

“It’s critical that those impacted by regulations related to farming and agriculture have the right to be a part of the process — good policy should be inclusive,” Hinds said.

“This legislation puts a system in place to ensure that our local boards of health and agricultural commissions are working together toward the common goals of supporting the local economy while protecting public health,” Blais said.

The legislation is not just about farmers — farmers markets and farm stands are also covered, she said.

“It impacts agricultural activity in our communities as a whole,” Blais said. “Examples would include regulations around having backyard chicken or goats. The legislation ensures that both the protection of public health in our communities and the best practices developed by our strong agricultural sector be taken into consideration before regulations are promulgated by a local board of health.”

“Local boards of health make consequential decisions that impact our health and our local industries,” Hinds said. “That’s why we felt the industries impacted should have a chance to weigh in. This legislation means boards of health will now be obliged to hear from their local agricultural commissions when issues might impact farming and agriculture. That will include non-commercial keeping of poultry, livestock and bees; and non-commercial production of fruit, vegetables and horticultural plants.”

Blais said boards of health will retain the “ultimate decision-making” authority on regulations, especially in an emergency.

In municipalities that have an an agricultural commission, the commission will now have the opportunity to review, take public comment on and formally make recommendations on any board of health regulation that impacts agriculture. The board of health retains the right to make final decisions on regulations and to make emergency regulations.

More than half of the municipalities in the state have agricultural commissions. According to the Massachusetts Association of Agricultural Commissions, these commissions represent the farming community, encourage the pursuit of agriculture, promote agricultural economic development, protect farmlands and farm businesses, and preserve, revitalize and sustain agricultural businesses and land.

The new law is supported by Massachusetts Food Systems Caucus, Massachusetts Food System Collaborative, Massachusetts Farm Bureau, Massachusetts Association of Health Boards and Massachusetts Public Health Association.