State legislatures are now in session in almost all 50 states. While last November’s elections did not result in much change, there do appear to be some different approaches in the state houses in the realm of food safety. First, you may have read something about how well the Democrats did in the 2012 elections, especially in holding the White House and Senate. There’s been a lot of froth about the Republicans fading away and all that. What’s received almost no attention is how Democrats failed miserably in state legislative races. The Dems challenge after 2010 was that voters had elected an historic huge number of GOP state legislative seats. Post-2010, Republicans held 662 more state legislative seats in the U.S. than the Democrats: 3,956 to 3,294. In 2012, the Ds gained little ground, taking back just 142 of those seats in what was suppose to be a big year. And 109 of those were gains in one lively body: the 400-member New Hampshire House. Along with the continued dominance of GOP governors, Republicans finished 2012 still holding 522 more state legislative seats than Democrats. It all adds up to the fact that whatever is going on at your favorite state capitol is probably going to continue. And since almost nothing changed anywhere, that also applies to those “blue” state capitols like Albany, Sacramento and St. Paul.  And  if you think who gets elected to state legislature is not important, remember that just eight years ago, Barack Obama was nothing more than another state senator sitting on a bench down in Springfield. It’s difficult this early to really say for certain what the trends are in store for food safety issues. It’s possible now that  half the states eased up on regulations for so-called “cottage foods,” we might be at the end of that particular popular movement. It means we’ll miss those committee hearings where differences between baking cakes and canning pickles are discussed in such detail. With budgets recovering in many if not most states, we do see some renewed optimism out there in state health and agricultural departments for restoring some of the losses that were experienced during the last recession. For food safety, increased budgets might mean better surveillance and more aggressive use of lab work. The legislative season means that bills can be introduced to change a state’s raw milk policies. We’ve come to call this the “raw milk games,” because it always seems to be fought out between the 45-yard lines, meaning we always seem to be left with a mosaic of state laws that add up to about same thing when its all over. My prediction is that before it’s all over we will be looking at whether Wisconsin and Indiana ease up on raw milk sales. Wisconsin, being nation’s dairy capital, and Indiana, known for being careful with its agriculture, will influence others with whatever they do or don’t do. And another round of “ag-gag” bills have been introduced. The first three of these were signed into law more than 20 years ago; three more were adopted last year, and now several more have been introduced in the Midwest and West. The food safety stake in these bills exists around the scientific findings that animals that are abused or stressed become more susceptible to disease and infections with the very foodborne pathogens we are most concerned about. Undercover investigations, often conducted by animal activist groups, have proved effective in finding and documenting such abuse that rises to that level.   No better example exists than the 2008 investigation conducted by the Humane Society of the United States on the Westland/Hallmark slaughterhouse in California, In it, HSUS exclusively documented that one of the largest beef suppliers to the National School Lunch Program was using fork lifts to force wasted “downer” cows into the kill box. It was the video that led to the largest beef recall in U.S. history.  And HSUS  in 2012 won a symbolic $497 million judge from the Westland/Hallmark owners un the False Act.  It’s money that, for the most part, HSUS will never be able to collect from the bankrupt beef men. But last year also saw Iowa, Utah and Missouri adopt “ag-gag” bills that will make it difficult, if not impossible, to continue to legally do that kind of work, because the new laws empower the landowner with a veto over whether filming or recording can be done in the name of “farm protection.” Every farm state capitol has a collection of interests that make up its Ag lobby. They are usually a cautious, conservative bunch, but when they all want the same thing they usually get it. I felt like that was what was happening last year. And I do not understand why. I think the self-interest of most of agriculture is to do its business out in the open. Animal agriculture cannot bitch and moan about how misunderstood it is and then use the law to keep the world away. I could write another entire column just on the First Amendment violations raised by the way some of these laws are drafted.  The plain language used makes one wonder if they are really thinking  a farm owner can control pictures taken from, say, a rail or canal company right way, from the air, or even space. Let’s just say they are making  Mussolini proud with what’s going on in their little mini-dictator minds. Finally, some states are going to stick their toes in the whole issue of labeling genetically modified food. After the defeat of Proposition 37 in California, proponents of GM labeling around the country want to have a legislative win or two before going back to voters. However, the first try has failed. In New Mexico’s Senate, by a vote of 23-to-17, a bill to require labeling of genetically modified organism was rejected. The bill was “deemed lost” for the year, under Senate rules, according to Sen. Peter Wirth (D-Santa Fe), who was the sponsor. It was just the first vote. It won’t be the last.