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Read Rep. Paul Schemel's Update on FPR

This update is from State Representative Paul Schemel's Weekly Round Up Newsletter and contains information on the status of Food Processing Residuals. Important points of interest:

  • In Spring 2023 a working group was formed comprising of experts in agricultural science and policy from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and the DEP, as well as four state House members, including Paul Schemel, whose districts have experienced problems from FPRs. It sought to design a new policy for FPRs.

  • State law needs to be changed in order to regulate FPRs. The consensus seems to be that animal-based FPRs should be treated differently than plant-based FPRs, with the former to be regulated similarly to biosolids, which require significant processing before they are applied to fields.

  • The four legislators have begun to draft the bill which will change the law, if passed and signed by the governor; however, they are awaiting some technical information from science experts in the working group. The four house members are also working to build support for the proposed bill now to increase the chances of its passage when ready.

 

This week, the Antrim Township Board of Supervisors meeting was standing room only as local residents concerned about food processing residuals (FPRs) being spread on agricultural land expressed their frustration that Pennsylvania is not limiting this practice. I provided an update as to what is happening at the state level and, for the benefit of those who weren’t there, I will repeat that information here.


What are FPRs?

FPRs are what is leftover when food is processed. This can include fruit or vegetable peels, seeds, blood, bone, cheese, whey and similar things. Food processing facilities have no need for this material and disposing of it is an expense to them. Farmers generally use FPRs on their fields as a means of building the organic content of their soil, much the same way that they use animal manure. In this way FPRs can be a benefit to the farmer.


Why are people in Franklin County concerned about FPRs?

FPRs, both those derived from plants as well as from animals, have been spread on fields in our community for decades; there is nothing particularly new about this practice. Recently, Virginia and West Virginia have reclassified FPRs as industrial waste, drastically limiting the disposal methods previously used by food processors in those states. For that reason, surrounding states have seen an increase in the spreading of FPRs.


Some FPRs, particularly those from animal processing, result in a significant amount of odor, sometimes far more than the odor most of us are accustomed to from the spreading of manure. In addition, because of various factors, the odor from FPRs can sometimes linger for long periods of time.


The issue of FPRs reached a boiling point in our area two years ago when three residences reported contaminated wells, causing the drinking water to their homes to be unusable. Various testing of these wells has been conducted and the wells have been found to contain the same materials also found in the FPRs spread on a nearby field. Although there have not been any other wells contaminated, at least not that I have seen evidence of, residents living near fields where FPRs are being applied are understandably and reasonably concerned.


Is the spreading of FPRs regulated?

Yes and no. All materials applied to the surface of agricultural land must conform to a nutrient management plan filed with the county conservation district, including FPRs. This is intended to keep these materials away from streams and wells. There is a manual published by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) that provides best practice recommendations for the spreading of FPRs, but the standards in the handbook are not mandated by law.


Can’t Pennsylvania just mandate the standards in the manual?

It is the opinion of both the DEP and the Department of Agriculture that the standards laid out in the manual are not adequate to solve the problem. Also, the same agencies believe that current law does not permit them to enforce the standards in the handbook, so the legislature would first need to give the agencies further authorization. If the legislature is going to change the law, it makes sense to update the standards to adequately address the problems.


Can the local municipality regulate FPRs?

That is a somewhat open question. Municipalities can pass ordinances protecting the health, safety and welfare of their residents; however, Pennsylvania’s strong Right to Farm Act limits what a municipality can do when it comes to regulating agriculture. For example, a municipal ordinance banning the spreading of FPRs would likely be in direct violation of state law. In addition, most municipalities do not have the technical expertise to test or analyze FPRs. That said, one township in Chester County has passed an ordinance regarding the spreading of FPRs and Antrim Township is reviewing its options to do the same. The Chester County ordinance is only a few weeks old, so it has yet to be tested in court.


Is the state doing anything about FPRs?

Yes. When the problems with wells first arose, the DEP visited the affected area and began a series of detailed tests. This testing was performed to determine both the source of the well contamination and the contents of the FPRs being stored and applied on the nearby farm. I, together with Rep. Barb Gliem in Cumberland County and, more recently, Rep. Paul Friel in Chester County, have been working with both the DEP and the Department of Agriculture to address the problems with FPRs.


Beginning in spring of last year, a working group was formed comprised of experts in agricultural science and policy from both the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and the DEP. It sought to design a new policy for FPRs. The working group also includes four state House members whose districts have experienced problems from FPRs, including me, as well as policy experts from Penn State and representatives from the agriculture industry. This working group has been meeting monthly, with the most recent meeting taking place in Harrisburg this past Thursday. This past week, Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding testified to the House Appropriations Committee that FPRs need to be better regulated. You can watch that testimony here.


Based upon what we know now, it is the general consensus of the working group that state law needs to be changed in order to regulate FPRs. Generally speaking, the consensus seems to be that animal-based FPRs should be treated differently than plant-based FPRs, with the former to be regulated similarly to biosolids, which require significant processing before they are applied to fields.


The four legislators participating in the working group have begun to draft the bill which will change the law, if passed and signed by the governor; however, we are awaiting some technical information for the definitions. That technical requirements will come from the science experts in the working group. The four of us in the legislature are working to build support for the proposed bill now to increase the chances of its passage when it is ready. We hope that will be soon since the need is significant.


Can’t Pennsylvania just ban the import and/or spreading of FPRs?

The federal law of interstate commerce prevents Pennsylvania from treating outside FPRs differently than those generated within the state; we can’t outright ban out-of-state FPRs. Pennsylvania could treat FPRs as industrial waste the way that Viriginia and West Virginia do. Pennsylvania has a much larger agricultural industry than either of those states, with numerous food processors. In addition, many farmers within the state rely on FPRs as a part of the nutrient enrichment program for their crops. Banning FPRs would have a significant, negative impact on one of the state’s largest industries, making such legislation politically unfeasible to pass. Our effort would be left with nothing.


There are other states that regulate FPRs in the manner which the working group is leaning, that is, by requiring processing, testing and much tighter application management. This approach also garners the support of the agriculture industry, which ensures an easier path to passing the bill. If we can’t pass the legislation, we can’t do any good.


How do surrounding states regulate FPRs?

  • Maryland’s requirements are the most similar to those detailed in the Pennsylvania FPR manual; however, effective in 2023, Maryland codified those restrictions into law and regulated the times at which FPRs could be applied.

  • New York’s regulatory definition of food processing waste does not include waste from processing of animal carcasses or parts. The storage and land application of food processing waste is categorized as exempt, registered or permitted depending on location, quantity and type of material.

  • New Jersey’s regulations refer to the waste generated from food processing and packaging operations as food processing by-product, which is categorized as either food processing residual or food processing vegetative waste. Food processing residuals refers to the solids resulting from treatment of wastewater generated from food processing and packaging operations. Food processing vegetative waste includes the peelings, cores, seeds, etc. A farm operator seeking protection of New Jersey’s Right to Farm Act must apply food processing by-product to a commercial farm in accordance with the requirements of New Jersey law.

  • Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality includes food processing waste in its definition of industrial waste. Virginia does permit land application of “industrial residuals,” but regulation requires a permit and notification of land application to the local municipality and the Commonwealth.

  • In Ohio, land application of compost and agricultural waste is exempt from permitting; however, the agricultural waste is limited to non-processed plant material. Food processing waste including raw rendering waste has to undergo processing (i.e.. composting, anaerobic digestion). Raw rendering material from animal food processing facilities may also be sold to a mink ranch, dog kennel, zoo, captive wildlife farm, or a pet food manufacturing plant.

  • The West Virginia Solid Waste Management Rule defines waste generated by animal processing facilities as “Industrial Solid Waste.” The rule notes that land application is not included in Industrial Solid Waste disposal practices. Plant-based food waste may be managed through composting. Small-scale composting is authorized through registration (permit by rule), while large-scale composting is authorized by permit.

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