Food safety was foremost among more than 700 food bills that the nation’s 50 state legislative bodies considered this past year, the Denver-based National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) reports.

The exhaustive analysis by  Doug Farquhar, an NCSL staff lawyer, pulls together all the action involving food and food safety by state lawmakers in 2019.

Food safety was the topic of 149 bills that were introduced in 2019, and 12 were enacted.   The NCSL report says the Food Safety Management Act (FSMA), changes to retail food codes, inspectors for produce safety, and responses to allergens were among the main topics of interest for state lawmakers.

In addition to food safety, Farquhar found lawmakers were active in such areas as food facilities, food donations and labeling of cell or plant-based meat.  Some of the significant food safety law changes included:

California enacted amendments to its Retail Food Code that prohibits the use of latex gloves in food facilities and retail food establishments.   The amendments further require food employees to use non-latex utensils including non-latex gloves. It also makes changes to food handler card requirements and mandates training about major food allergens.

Illinois enacted amendments to its Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to ensure the safety of food sold in bulk containers, including bags, cups with lids and other methods.  The goal of the legislative to see that bulk foods are dispensed in a satisfactory manner.

Maine enacted shellfish safety legislation to bring about  state compliance with the National Shellfish Sanitation Program. The new law requires that holders’ aquaculture  licenses properly  tag shellfish.

Oklahoma banned feeding garbage to pigs and other swine. The ban applies to any animal or vegetable wastes.

NCSL’s study found 130 bills related to food facilities, including restaurants, public schools, mobile food trucks, and retail establishments.   Fourteen food facility bills were enacted.

In Colorado, the state assumed jurisdiction over food trucks, prohibiting local government from imposing additional requirements on them. The legislation did allow local governments to continue sales tax, zoning and land use authority over mobile food trucks.

Hawaii enacted a law requiring restaurants that sell children’s meals to require that the default option is that the meal includes a healthy beverage. And Louisiana made it a law that any food server who serves imported crawfish or shrimp must inform the patron that seafood is of foreign origin.

West Virginia enacted a “Fresh Foods Act,” requiring all state-funded organizations to purchase at last 5 percent of their fresh produce, meat, and poultry from competitive in-state producers.

Labeling plant or cell-based meat substitutes was first the subject of legislation in Missouri in 2018,   In 2019, it became a gusher with 60 bills introduced in 31 states with 11 enacted.

“Most followed Missouri’s lead, restriction os the term “meat” to products derived  from animal harvesting by traditional means,” Farquhar said.

He said the various terms used include “clean meat,” “cell-based meat,” “cell-cultured meat” and “lab-grown meat.” Other bills limit the use of the term “beef.”

If there was a trend, it was that some of the 2019 bills were even more aggressive than Missouri in their defense of the traditional meat and beef industries.

Some of the states, like Alabama, Colorado, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Wyoming enacted laws.  Others sent resolutions calling for congressional action.

NCSL is a bipartisan non-government organization serving members and staff of state legislatures since 1975.  It also maintains an office in Washington D.C.

Editor’s Note:  The complete NCSL report on state food safety legislation for 2019 is now available here.

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