Let’s dig a little into Food Processing Residuals

January 12 – The term is Food Processing Residuals or FPR and the definition is moderately unappetizing. 

Directly from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, FPRs are “organic material generated by processing agricultural commodities for human or animal consumption. The term includes food residuals, food coproducts, food processing wastes, food processing sludges, or any other incidental material whose characteristics are derived from processing agricultural products. 

Examples include: process wastewater from cleaning slaughter areas, rinsing carcasses, or conveying food materials; process wastewater treatment sludges; blood; bone; fruit and vegetable peels; seeds; shells; pits; cheese whey; off-specification food products; hides; hair; and feathers.” 

It’s the part of making the food we eat that a whole lot of us don’t think about – or really want to think about – until we have to. 

Because when those materials end up in the water in our wells, that’s when the term becomes incredibly serious. 

PA Representative Paul Schemel said, “If you’re going to make potatoes at night, you’re going to peel the potatoes. The peels are a product and then you wash the potatoes off before you cook them. That wash is an FPR as well. So when we do it at home, no big deal, but if you do it on the scale of someone like Utz, that’s a lot of product.”

FPRs have a lot to do with Pennsylvania’s Right to Farm Act. 

Schemel said, “It allows farmers to farm and we’re used to that in this community, everything that comes with farming. It’s a critical industry and we kind of live with the little bit of smell, tractors on the road, things like that. These FPRs are valuable because they’re nutrient rich. So for example, getting back to someone like Utz, they have potatoes, you have the wash that comes off the potatoes, that’s nutrient rich, it gets spread on fields, that’s a good thing. It’s a win win. Because if that goes into the sewer system, the sewer systems struggle to be able to manage all those nutrients. We put them on the fields, put them to work for the product of farmers and that’s a good thing. It actually saves farmers lots of money and nutrients that they would otherwise have to purchase.”

It’s the animal aspects of FPR that makes things a little trickier. 

Schemel said, “The meat is washed so the blood and guts and other things like that sort of fall through and that is in FPR as well. In Pennsylvania, you can spread that on fields as well. It is also nutrient rich, so actually it’s good for the soil, but a byproduct of some FPRs from that process, is really caustic. We’re used to the smell of chicken manure on fields and things like that. But imagine at the end of a week of a fair, in the hot of the summer, someone dumps one of the porta potties in your yard. That’s how that smells and the smell doesn’t go away after a day or two. It lingers. So that is what’s also being spread on some fields. Number one, it smells terrible for people that live nearby. I mean, you can’t open your windows ever during the summer. You can’t put your laundry out. Everything smells like that. But what we’re also seeing is that it’s contaminating some of the water sources.”

It was discovered a few years ago that FPR got into wells in Antrim Township. 

Schemel said, “It’s an isolated number of wells, and it has to do with the geology under the ground, but it’s getting into that, so imagine now turning on your faucet and water comes out, but the water reeks like the smell I just described. That’s one of the problems we’re having from the FPRs.”

In some of our neighboring states, FPRs aren’t allowed to be spread, particularly the animal waste. 

Schemel said, “So those are brought into Pennsylvania. Farmers get paid to do it. It’s also nutrient rich for the soil, so there is good for it. But the negative consequences of some of the FPRS are really difficult to live with for neighboring properties.”

Michele Jansen of NewsTalk 103.7FM pointed out, “The smell of death is the way I heard it described by some. All I can think of is any rotting meat product. One time going down in my basement, I started to smell something horrible and the nose finally tracked it down – a piece of meat that had been frozen accidentally left outside the freezer. So that’s the kind of smell I think of when somebody tells me the smell of death when it comes to meat products.”

Pat Ryan of NewsTalk 103.7FM wondered, “What’s next for the situation?”

Schemel said, “What we’re trying to do at the heart of this is the Pennsylvania’s Right to Farm Act. So Pennsylvania farmers have broad ability to be able to farm, even though some of what comes out of farms can be caustic to people that live nearby. So how do we get this right where we’re not doing things that are so disruptive to people’s neighboring properties and to their wells and so forth, but still give farmers the ability to farm?”

For the last two years, the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Agriculture have been trying to identify what is it in FPRs that make the whole thing so caustic? 

Schemel said, “I think they already have the enabling legislation. There’s no more legislative work that the legislature needs to really do because the DEP can already regulate this. It’s a matter of DEP getting scientifically to ascertain what it is about this particular FPR that’s so bad that we can regulate this away? That it be processed in a different way. So the DEP has been working on that. I’ve been very frustrated with myself. We’ve been frustrated with the pace that there’s not been a resolution to this, but I also acknowledge scientifically there’s an issue.”

Jansen said, “This took place in Antrim Township, which I’m sure is one of the reasons you’ve become quite proficient at understanding this concept. This is in your district, and I don’t think that’s even done yet though is it? I think two wells were re-dug. There was a farm and a manure hauler, that according to the DEP they had violations. There was no admission of guilt. They say they still don’t think they were responsible for this, but it’s sort of stopped in that area, at least with the manure hauler, and I believe it’s been better, but I know there’s still a group of active citizens from Antrim Township that’s very worried. I know there’s an appeal by those two entities of DEP, still. So what I’m afraid is we’re getting into a conflict between those who want to make money on this prospect and I don’t blame the farmers. It’s great that they can make money and get their fertilizer done, but what I hear now from people in West Pennsboro Township is they are spreading, spreading, spreading all the time. It’s not just like the twice a year stuff that we used to see, at least this is what they’re complaining about there. They also are very worried about trucking and other states and is that a part of regulation that might need legislators to look into because those states have stricter regulations and that’s why that’s being attracted to our state?”

Schemel said, “Because of interstate commerce laws it’s very difficult to be able to regulate things as they’re trucked in from other states. It’s what we can apply to Pennsylvania fields. The particular problem in Antrim Township has to do with that inactive farm that is actively being farmed. Now, there are other communities in some other parts of the state that are having problems with FPRs, where it’s actually a field that’s not a farm at all. It’s just a piece of land that’s being purchased to basically become a dump site for this. So they’re not planting anything. They don’t have animals on the farm. All they do is the land to dump FPRs. In Antrim Township, this is an active farm. The situation there has to do with tanks that there might have been leaks that were unaware to the farmer. That’s what DEP and the farmer and the neighboring properties have been sort of wrangling with, is there a particular issue there that allowed that to seep into the groundwater? But even if that were not the issue, the FPRs are so caustic that just having them on the fields actually makes it unlivable for neighbors, if it’s a particular kind of FPR. Again, that’s what they’re trying to identify is what makes this FPR distinct and can we then scientifically find an inexpensive way to test those so that those FPRS are processed in a different way?”

Ryan said, “I don’t have any interest in putting more on the backs of the farmers out here. God bless a farmer and the work that they do here. Does that go back to the liability on the farmer? I’ve got an easy test, throw it into whatever soup you’re thinking about throwing on the field. It has to meet this standard, and if it doesn’t, then you turn that truck around.”

Schemel said, “If you think about this, from a policy perspective, that’s what we as policy makers try to think: where’s the best place to put that policy? If the product has to be tested before it’s spread on field, where’s the appropriate place to test it? Working with DEP we think that probably the appropriate place to test it is before it actually leaves the processing facility, all together. Say okay, if this is a truck that’s bound to come to Pennsylvania to spread this product, it needs to be tested down there so that the product doesn’t end up here. Because every time liquid products are moved, there’s always spillage, there are other things that can happen. We don’t have the resources within Pennsylvania to go test every single spreader, every single tank that goes on every field. That would be monumental and we don’t want to do this on the honor system either. So the easiest place to do it is at the processing place itself.”