Raw milk gains attention in wake of farmer’s suspension
AUSTIN -- Legislators from both parties have filed four bills in the 83rd Texas Legislative Session that will help eliminate some of the regulatory barriers to local foods and reduce unnecessary financial burdens on local food producers, according to a Feb. 13 Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance press release.
“These bills provide important reforms,” explained Judith McGeary, founder and executive director of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance. “While demand for local foods is growing exponentially, farmers can’t keep up with that demand, in part because of the regulatory barriers that have been developed by and for the conventional food system.”
While licensed farmers can already sell raw milk in Texas, regulations require the sale to occur on the farm. In a recent incident in San Antonio, a raw milk farmer’s license was suspended because he delivered to a private home; it was reinstated on the condition that he doesn’t make future deliveries.
Although the regulations are ambiguous, the agency’s position is that all deliveries are illegal. House Bill (HB) 46 improves access to raw milk and protects farmers from such problems by allowing for direct-to-consumer sales at farmers markets and similar locations, and expressly authorizing delivery.
“It makes no sense to restrict farmers from delivering a product that they can legally sell,” argued McGeary, a raw milk consumer herself. “The video of the farmer dumping his milk down the drain because he wasn’t allowed to sell it has sparked outrage among the people who want to see the law changed.”
Another bill, HB 970, encourages home-based food production by expanding the 2011 cottage foods bill to cover more foods and permit sales outside the home.
Two other bills address the fees that burden many small farmers, including
•HB 910, which caps health permit fees imposed by local and state health departments for farmers selling directly to consumers.
•HB 254, which protects urban farmers and community gardens from paying unnecessary wastewater fees.
The Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance is promoting four additional bills that are expected to be filed shortly, addressing issues from sampling at farmers markets to property taxes. A full description of the bills is available at http://bit.ly/ZIKuuQ.
“These bills all protect the public health and safety while recognizing that foods produced and sold locally are different from the mass-produced conventional foods with supply and distribution chains that stretch nationally and even internationally,” McGeary said.
To support the bills, the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance is organizing a Local Foods Education Day on Tuesday, March 19, from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. at the state Capitol. Farmers, ranchers, consumers, and activists from all over the state will gather to learn the basics of being a citizen lobbyist. After the workshop, they will organize in groups to meet with legislators from their regions to explain why these issues matter to Texans.
For more information and to register for the education day, visit www.farmandranchfreedom.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 254-697-2661.