Farm bill makes turtle sales legal

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 7, 2008

WILDSVILLE — For the first time since 1975, selling small pet turtles is legal.

The transmission of turtles smaller than 10.2 centimeters in diameter— whether by sale or donation — has been illegal for the last 31 years because of the risk they might transfer salmonella, a bacteria the turtles transfer to humans that causes illness.

But since then farmers have developed ways to ensure the reptiles are salmonella free, and the U.S. Farm Bill passed in December had an amendment that repealed the tiny turtle ban.

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U.S. Sen. David Vitter and U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander sponsored the turtle amendment. The Farm, Nutrition and Bioenergy Act of 2007 (H.R. 2419) that included the amendment passed 79-14.

For Wildsville turtle farmer Jesse Evans the new legislation won’t change much of what he’s done for years.

“The big turtle market is in China, but the price has gotten down to where it doesn’t pay to send them over there,” he said.

In the United States there are so many turtle producers that the market will pretty much keep their prices low.

“I don’t think it would have a big impact on the market in the U.S.,” he said. “It’s so competitive.”

Though the small turtles aren’t ultra-profitable, Evans has run Concordia Turtle Farm since 1968.

The farming process begins when the turtles come out of hibernation in the spring, Evans said.

Once the turtles start to lay their eggs on the levees around the turtle ponds, the eggs are gathered daily, and all dirt is removed from the eggs before they are soaked for 10 minutes in a water and Clorox solution.

After that, they are cleaned in a commercial washer.

“We run them through an egg washer manufactured for chicken eggs,” Evans said.

Once washed, the eggs are placed in a special vacuum tank to eradicate any salmonella. After that, they are placed in incubation trays until they hatch, at which time a state veterinarian certifies they are salmonella free.

Despite these safeguards, Evans said he has heard rumors from Washington that the repeal of the ban may be repealed itself, but even if that happens he still has the foreign markets he has been selling to for years.

“I have been doing this since 1968,” he said. “It’s just about time for me to quit, so I’ll stick with it for a few more years.”