Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Forager Rick Tibbetts, right, sells wild matsutake mushrooms to Joe Fournier of Rosemont Market, who is holding cultivated mushrooms. Fournier, a supporter of accountable foraging, only buys from insured suppliers.

 

December 17, 2012

Safety of wild mushrooms put off as law gets moldy

Standards for foragers, enacted in April, have yet to be implemented as parties debate training and fees.

By Avery Yale Kamila akamila@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

Today's poll: Mushroom laws

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Adding to the law's troubles, one prominent forager feels it doesn't do enough to protect public health and is circulating a petition seeking support to strengthen it.

So far, forager Rick Tibbetts, who owns the Scarborough-based Tibbetts Mushroom Co. and sells to many of the best-known restaurants in greater Portland, has gathered more than 100 signatures from chefs and food buyers.

He wants the law amended to promote "accountable foraging" by requiring foragers to carry liability insurance and encouraging sustainable practices to prevent over-harvesting.

Evans, Taylor and other chefs support Tibbetts' proposal to amend the law.

"If someone went through the process of getting insurance, they're serious about what they're doing, so that would make me feel better," Evans said.

However, the more immediate hurdle for the law is the certification fee that the governor insisted be capped at $20.

It has become standard procedure for LePage to demand lower fees in all bills that reach his desk.

"From the governor's perspective, putting fees on small business and putting the burden on their backs is not the solution," said Adrienne Bennett, LePage's spokeswoman. "The governor has been very clear that we can't raise taxes and we can't raise fees."

Rep. Heather Sirocki, R-Scarborough, who worked to amend the bill after the governor threatened to veto it, advocated for a compromise fee of $75. But LePage was adamant that it be $20.

"I just don't see that the governor is going to budge on that," Sirocki said. "I tried. He's very firm."

The low fee means the advisory committee -- should it ever be seated -- will face a difficult task. The 12-member committee is charged with determining the parameters for the training program, including the curriculum, the qualifications for trainers and the exam.

The shape and substance of the training won't be known until the committee is seated. But those experienced in running training programs say it's impossible to implement a program with such limited funding.

Grotton said the task force felt it could create a curriculum and hire trainers for $75, but $20 wouldn't work.

"We're willing to move forward, but it has to be funded, and we don't have the funding," said Grotton, who put forth his name to fill the advisory committee seat designated for the Maine Restaurant Association.

The association regularly hosts the two-day ServSafe Food Handler training, and charges $129 for members and $170 for nonmembers. The fee includes a textbook.

Mushroom educator Greg Marley, author of "Mushrooms for Health" and "Chanterelle Dreams, Amanita Nightmares," and a board member of the Maine Mycological Association, agreed that the $20 fee is too low.

"It simply will not function at $20," said Marley, who sat on the task force that helped draft the law.

Marley said that after the fee was lowered, the task force met one final time. During that meeting, he said, members of the group felt the only way the certification program could move forward would be by requiring those seeking certification to pay the $20 fee to the Department of Health and Human Services, which would then direct applicants to private trainers who would deliver the training for a fee set by each instructor.

Under such a system, those seeking certification could end up paying more than the $200 fee included in the original version of the legislation.

Among the 12 members required to form the committee, eight need to be appointed by the governor and four are state employees, including representatives from DHHS, the Department of Agriculture and the University of Maine. Those who must be appointed include two representatives from the Maine Mycological Association plus a chef, a forager, a wild mushroom broker, a wholesale food distributor, a poison control center representative and a member of the Maine Restaurant Association.

(Continued on page 3)

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Today's poll: Mushroom laws

Should Maine implement a law requiring certification of wild-mushroom foragers who sell to restaurants?

Yes

No

View Results