‘Food freedom' bill dies in Wyoming

2011-01-18T23:45:00Z ‘Food freedom' bill dies in Wyoming

By JOSHUA WOLFSON

Casper Star-Tribune

The Billings Gazette
January 18, 2011 11:45 pm  • 

CASPER, Wyo. — A bill that would have allowed sales of homemade foods without government oversight died Tuesday in a legislative committee.

The House Agriculture Committee rejected the proposed Wyoming Food Freedom Act by a 5-4 vote. The legislation would have exempted ranchers and other home-based food producers from state licensing and inspection rules when they sold their wares directly to consumers.

Supporters of the legislation said consumers could decide for themselves whether homemade foods are safe. State regulators and health officials insisted that the bill would lead to more outbreaks of foodborne illness.

Although he appreciated the bill's emphasis on personal responsibility, committee Chairman Mark Semlek, R-Moorcroft, said he worried about its impact on Wyoming's existing food safety rules.

“I think that whole aspect of retraining our culture is one of the things the bill tried to get at,” he said. “But it was hard to get at that without jeopardizing other things that affect food safety.”

The committee was also concerned that unregulated foods might eventually reach consumers who weren't aware of their status, Semlek said.

A similar bill died in a Senate committee last year amid fears that it would prompt federal regulators to shut down the state's meat inspection program. Those same concerns arose again during Tuesday's debate, said Dean Finkenbinder, consumer health services manager for the state's Agriculture Department.

“If that had gone through, the USDA could have taken the state meat inspection program from us,” said Finkenbinder, who testified before the House committee.

Rep. Sue Wallis, R-Recluse, has been the primary legislative backer of the food freedom bill. In an e-mail, she called the latest defeat “disappointing.”

Wallis did not return telephone messages.

Rep. Bunky Loucks, R-Casper, was among the committee members who supported the bill. Consumers can decide for themselves what foods are safe, he said.

“I'm not saying it is for everybody,” he said. “But if I want to go buy my beef from somebody where it doesn't go through an inspection period, that is my business.”

Loucks said he was also concerned about the expense of regulating home-based food producers.

The legislature's Joint Agriculture Committee, which includes Senate and House members, agreed in October to sponsor the food freedom bill. Since that time, five new members have joined the House committee.

During Tuesday's meeting, the House committee unanimously approved a second bill that exempts homemade foods served at “traditional events” from state licensing and inspection. Those events would include potlucks and school fundraisers.

The committee ran out of time before it could consider a third bill that would legalize the sale of raw milk in Wyoming through so-called “herd-share agreements.” Such agreements allow consumers to purchase a share of a cow or goat, paying a rancher for a portion of its care in exchange for milk produced by the animal.

Committee members are scheduled to discuss the raw milk bill Thursday.

Contact Joshua Wolfson at josh.wolfson@trib.com or 307-266-0582.

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