Wyoming’s Joint Agriculture Committee decided yesterday to sponsor the hotly contested Wyoming Food Freedom Bill in next year’s legislative session. The bill, which was introduced by Rep. Sue Wallis, R-Recluse, would exempt all “cottage foods”, or foods prepared in home kitchens and sold directly to consumers, from regulation.
Supporters of the bill argue that consumers should be able to purchase food directly from ranchers and farmers without government inspection.
In 2008, Wallis introduced a bill to exempt all cottage foods, including potentially hazardous foods such as dairy products, canned foods, and sauces, from regulation. The bill did not pass through the Legislature, so last year she introduced a modified version of the bill, which exempted only non-hazardous foods, such as jams, cookies, and bread, from regulation.
This second bill passed, and as a result on July 1, 2009 it became legal to sell non-hazardous home-produced foods at roadside stands and farmers markets.
There is some question as to what foods will specifically be regulated under the new bill. According to the Casper Tribune, Joint Agriculture Committee members disagreed on whether the current bill would cover meat and milk products.
In January, members of the Wyoming Governor’s Council on Food Safety planned to send letters to Gov. Dave Freudenthal and legislators cautioning against an expansion of the cottage foods exemption.
Opposition to the Wyoming Food Freedom Bill comes not only from the council, but from public health officials, who support the inspection and licensing process because it allows inspectors to help cottage businesses minimize the risk of distributing foods contaminated with foodborne pathogens, which cause foodborne illness.
At a committee hearing this week Robert E. Harrington, director of the Casper-Natrona County Health Department, demonstrated 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 said in prepared testimony. “But it REDUCES risks and facilitates traceback vis-à-vis. Exemption guarantees INCREASED risks and impedes traceback.”
More Food Safety Battles to Come
The Joint Agriculture Committee will also sponsor a bill that will allow for “cow-share” agreements in Wyoming. Under a cow-share agreement, a person can purchase a “share” of a cow and therefore the right to a share of the raw cow’s milk produced by the cow.
It is currently illegal to sell raw milk in Wyoming.