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Which came first, the egg or the permit?

Health Bureau now requires small-scale egg producers to get new documentation

By John McVey / Journal staff writer

Article from The Journal

MARTINSBURG - Andrea Minicozzi of A Rare Breed Farm in Back Creek Valley would have to sell 400 dozen eggs to recoup the cost of a Morgan County Health Department permit to sell her eggs at the farmers market in Berkeley Springs.

Her reaction is to take her eggs to the farmers market in Winchester where small-scale producers of eggs are exempt from such permits.

"I've pulled my product from West Virginia," Minicozzi said.

Her profit margin on a dozen eggs is 26 cents, she explained in a telephone interview Monday. The permit costs $80, she said.

The reason to make sure eggs are safe is because they can carry salmonella, Minicozzi said.

"I had my flock voluntarily tested and there was no salmonella," she said.

Minicozzi's eggs are packaged in sealed, clear plastic containers, she said. The eggs are sold at under a week old, which, she said, is ideal for the quality of the eggs.

She was notified March 16 by Linda Whaley, food program manager for the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health, that she would need a food establishment permit to sell eggs at farmers markets or other venues, Minicozzi said.

Whaley was not available for comment Monday.

In April 2008, the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health adopted the Federal Food Code as part of the West Virginia Code of State Rules.

According to the BPH's Web site, the definition of "food establishment" and the section that applies to eggs in the Food Code were replaced with different paragraphs.

Regarding eggs, the new code reads: "Eggs that have not been treated to destroy all viable Salmonellae shall be stored in refrigerated equipment that maintains an ambient air temperature of 5 degrees Celsius (41 degrees Fahrenheit) or less."

It is not clear if this rule applies to farmers selling a dozen eggs to neighbors.

Pete Kennedy, president of the Florida-based Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, said in a telephone interview Monday that the West Virginia Department of Agriculture was directed by the state Legislature to have jurisdiction over small-scale producers of eggs like Minicozzi.

"But the department of health has taken over by adopting an administrative rule," he said.

The permit requirement is an unnecessary duplication of regulations, Kennedy said, and obstructs the local food movement.

"More people are choosing to participate in the local food movement, which is the answer to food safety," he said. "This is depriving local customers of a quality product."

He has written to Herma Johnson, regulatory and environmental affairs director of the West Virginia Department of Agriculture, to plead Minicozzi's case. He wrote that under the West Virginia Egg Marketing Law of 1998, the state Department of Agriculture clearly has jurisdiction over retail sales of eggs.

If Minicozzi were to sell her eggs wholesale, she would not need a county health department permit.

Johnson was not available for comment Monday.

Buddy Davidson, West Virginia Department of Agriculture communication officer, said he was not aware of the BPH's rule.

"We regulate smaller egg producers and there are no fees for that," he said.

Minicozzi and others have established a West Virginia chapter of the Independent Consumers and Farmers Association.

- Staff writer John McVey can be reached at (304) 263-3381, ext. 128, or [email protected]

 

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