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Stanislaus OKs rules on ag's food waste use

A new ordinance regulating the use of food processing waste won the unanimous approval of the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

The ordinance is the latest effort by the county to satisfy the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, which is concerned about potential ground and surface water contamination from the use of food processing waste on farmland.

The county has been involved in a 25-year program that takes about 600 million pounds of waste material from food processors, such as tomato skins and peach pits, and spreads them on farm fields as fertilizer. The program was developed by a team that included the Farm Bureau, the University of California Cooperative Extension, the county agricultural commissioner, the food processing industry and waste-hauling companies.

The program saves processors millions of dollars it would cost to haul the material to specialized landfills in other counties.

The water board became concerned five years ago about possible acid and salt contamination, triggering a series of meetings, negotiations and studies.

The ordinance approved Tuesday was developed by county staff, food processors, California State University professors and a consultant. It requires a permit to put food processing waste on land, feed it to animals, dehydrate it or compost it.

The new law requires performance bonds and insurance, and charges a research project fee of 10 cents per ton. It sets up conditions for using waste material and prohibits high concentrations of salts or other components that might harm the environment.

The waste material is to be analyzed for chemical content, pH levels and the percentage of volatile solids, and soil samples from the fields will be analyzed.

Could help stave off attacks

Dennis Shuler, environmental affairs manager at Gilton Resource Recovery, told the supervisors Tuesday that he was concerned about another layer of regulation. Gilton does not handle food processing waste, but could in the future, he said.

The company already deals with sometimes conflicting regulations from the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control Board, the Regional Water Quality Control Board and the state Integrated Waste Management Board, Shuler said.

"We are extremely regulated now. We aren't afraid of regulation; we just want to know if it is absolutely necessary," he said.

Supervisor Dick Monteith said Gilton has the choice of whether to enter into the food processing waste recycling business.

Jim Mortensen of Del Monte Foods in Modesto thanked the board and county staff for working out the ordinance.

"It's prudent that we put all these things in an ordinance," he said. "The program has been going on for 25 years, and it should go forward as it has. It has maintained the viability of our business."

Supervisor Jeff Grover said the ordinance is important because through it the county can properly document how food processing waste is used in hopes of preventing attacks on the program in the future.

Supervisor Jim DeMartini noted that the program has been operating for more than two decades without a problem.

"We are doing this because the state is threatening to step in and regulate it more," DeMar- tini said.

Bee staff writer Tim Moran can be reached at tmoran@modbee.com or 578-2349.

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