By Trevor Brown
CHEYENNE -- A state legislative panel advanced a bill Wednesday that would deregulate the sale of homemade food at farmers markets and through other one-on-one transactions.
The House Labor, Health and Social Services Committee voted unanimously to recommend passage of House Bill 108, which is labeled as the Food Freedom Act. The move advances the bill to the full House floor.
The proposal would exempt food from government oversight n including inspections, licensing and certification n as long as it is a single transaction between a producer and an “informed end consumer.”
Rep. Sue Wallis, R-Recluse, who is the bill’s sponsor, said this would allow the sale of currently regulated, locally produced meat or raw milk to be sold between individuals or at farmers markets.
“Neither the federal government, nor the state government, nor the local government should have any jurisdiction whatsoever if it’s a private transaction between two citizens over a legal product,” she said.
However, several state officials testified that the measure could pose safety concerns and could hurt the livestock industry.
Dr. Tracy Murphy, state epidemiologist with the Wyoming Department of Health, said selling unpasteurized dairy products and unregulated meat could lead to an increase in outbreaks and illnesses.
“Unpasteurized dairy products have been known to be a health risk for over 100 years,” he said. “In a recent scientific study by the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, they found there is a 150 times increased risk of outbreaks due to unpasteurized dairy products, compared to pasteurized dairy products.
“And that study also showed there is an increase of outbreaks in states that have permitted the sales.”
Wyoming Department of Agriculture Director Jason Fearneyhough said passage of the bill would threaten Wyoming’s compliance status with the U.S. Department of Agriculture over its meat regulations.
“So we would no longer be verified under USDA, and (the federal government) would take over our inspection process, and I believe there are some people here today that would say that is a great concern because they could probably not meet (the new standards),” he said. “So our fear is that this could push some meat processors out of business.”
Fearney-hough added Wyoming recently changed its rules to allow the sale of raw milk as long as the owner of a cow sells the milking shares to other people.
But several farmers and other agriculture representatives testified during the meeting in support of the bill.
Steve Doyle, a farmer and organizer of a farmers market in Riverton, said the state should look beyond just the health concerns.
“The regulatory environment that we have makes it pretty difficult for farmers like me,” he said. “And I think people should worry about farmers like me and for the little farm communities.”
He acknowledged there likely will be some cases where people get sick from food or drinks such as raw milk. But he said the benefits as a whole outweigh a relatively small number of people “getting the runs.”
He added that the one-on-one transactions actually simplifies the process and allows more transparencies.
“If there is a problem, it would be easy to find,” he said. “Because we have taken the food chain that is spread over thousands of miles and across time zones and nations, and we have reduced it to two links: the farmers and the consumer,” he said. “And so if there is a problem, it would be pretty easy to figure out where the problem is, identify it and fix it.”