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Agriculture Today

Perry signs Texas local food bills

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July 10, 2013 | 4,353 views | Post a comment

AUSTIN -- Gov. Rick Perry signed the three local foods bills passed by the Texas Legislature this session June 14, according to a Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance press release. The cottage foods bill, the farmers market bill, and the DSHS [Department of State Health Services] Better Communications bill all help make it easier for local farmers and food producers to raise and sell the healthy, local foods that so many consumers are increasingly seeking out.

The cottage food bill expands on last session’s cottage foods law, allowing cottage food producers to make low-risk foods -- such as baked goods, jams and jellies, dried herbs, dried fruits and vegetables, granolas, dry mixes, pickles, and coffee/tea mixes -- and sell at places such as farmers markets and community events, as well as from home.

The “Farmers Market” Bill establishes clear, reasonable standards for sampling at farmers markets and farm stands, replacing the current overly burdensome and confusing regulations. The bill also clarifies the requirements for cooking demonstrations and exempts educational demonstrations from permit fees.

The DSHS Better Communications Act directs the Department of State Health Services to respond within 30 days to inquiries about how the law applies to a farmer’s or food producer’s specific circumstances, so they can comply in good faith. Farmers and small-scale food producers have faced serious problems in the past because of the inability to determine what is actually required under the regulations.

Both the cottage foods and farmers market bills were supported by the Texas Farm-to-Table Caucus, a first of its kind in the nation founded in the spring of 2012 by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, and Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham.

These bills faced opposition from some powerful players at the Legislature, including the Texas Retailers Association and the Texas Municipal League. Passage of these bills is evidence that a grass-roots movement can outweigh money and influence.

“The local food movement is growing by leaps and bounds,” explained Judith McGeary, executive director of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance. “Just a few years ago, legislators had no idea that there even was such a thing as ‘a local foods movement.’ In a session notable for the number of bills that died without being voted on, the fact that three separate local foods bills passed reflects the legislators’ awareness of the many benefits this movement provides, for both rural and urban communities.”

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