From Washington to Maine with numerous stops in between, the food “sovereignty” movement emerged as the 10th most important food safety story of 2011.
With many variations, the movement involved attempts — some successful, some not — to exempt local food producers from food-safety regulation or oversight.
Father of the movement is a Big Sandy, MT farmer named Jon Tester, whose other job is representing his state in the U.S. Senate. The Food Safety Modernization Act signed into law by President Obama on Jan. 4, 2011 included the so-called Tester Amendment he co-authored.
In the run-up to the food safety bill’s final passage, the Montana senator exempted farmers who sell their products directly to consumers within 275 miles, or within a state, from what he called the law’s “onerous new requirements designed for industrial-scale food products.”
At the time, Tester said there was no need to include local food in federal legislation because local and state public health agencies would still be regulating it.
No sooner was the ink dry on the federal bill than town meetings began in New England and state legislatures were called into session around the country.
In Maine, multiple townships introduced “The Ordinance to Protect the Health and Integrity of the Local Food System.” Five Maine towns embraced local ordinances that seek to exempt all local food production from state or federal regulation. Maine is now suing a local dairy farmer for selling milk without a license and not labeling his raw milk as unpasteurized.
At the state level, Michigan’s new cottage food law, which took effect in 2011, became a model for other states. Any “person who produces or packages non-potentially hazardous food in a kitchen of that person’s primary domestic resident” is defined as a cottage food producer and exempt from licensing and inspection in Michigan.
The uninspected, unlicensed cottage food may be sold in homes, at roadside stands, farmer’s markets, and at town celebrations, festivals and events.
Some state legislators cited economic development reasons for supporting cottage food bills, to eliminate fees and encourage more food entrepreneurs. With unemployment remaining at unacceptable levels, the economy will probably continue to be cited as a reason for cutting food industry regulation in 2012.