In testimony prepared for a Wyoming Legislature public hearing, one of the Cowboy State’s top local health officials tells lawmakers to just say no to exemptions.
Robert E. Harrington, director of the Casper-Natrona County Health Department, is urging the joint Agricultural, State and Public Land, and Water Resources Interim committee to reject three proposed measures: the Food Freedom Bill, Traditional Food Event Bill, and Raw Milk Bill.
“I will address these bills before you as a single subject because they all share the same fallacious core concept: ‘Exempt all homemade food production and sales from all food safety regulations,’ ” says Harrington.
The joint interim committee is holding meetings today and tomorrow in Buffalo. Behind the campaign to exempt homemade foods from normal food safety regulation is Rep. Sue Willis, R-Recluse.
Willis, who earned the nickname “Slaughterhouse Sue” for backing legislation that could bring an operation to Wyoming to slaughter horses for human consumption, is prime sponsor of the Wyoming Food Freedom Act.
“I just feel like the bureaucracy, the food inspection bureaucracy, has gone completely overboard, and is infringing on our constitutional rights to produce things and sell things and consume things and buy things that they have absolutely no justification for doing,” she said last year.
The Food Freedom legislation would allow anything produced in a home kitchen to be exempt from food safety regulations if sold on the farm or in venues like farmers markets.
The Traditional Community Events Act, introduced by State Sen. Eli D. Bebout, R-Riverton, would exempt charitable and religious organizations that host potluck dinners and similar food events from regulatory oversight.
The third exemptions would go to raw milk producers. Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, does not want farmers who sell raw milk to have to deal with regulators, but apparently does want the state to establish a registry for “Cow Share” schemes.
Harrington, in opposing all three measures, will share with lawmakers two presentations by the Wyoming Department of Epidemiology section, demonstrating that the majority of foodborne illnesses in Wyoming and other states are linked to poor food handling in unregulated settings.
“Regulation does not guarantee absolute safety,” Harrington says in the testimony. “But it REDUCES risks and facilitates traceback vis-à-vis. Exemption guarantees INCREASED risks and impedes traceback.”
The Wyoming Legislature has so far declined to go along with the exemption bills. It did allow so-called non-hazardous foods, like jams and cookies, to be sold at roadside stands and farmers markets.
The Wyoming Governor’s Council on Food Safety has also opposed the broader exemptions.