Enthusiasm is building in Montana for a Food Freedom bill that may be fatally flawed in its major elements. The major sponsor, Sen. Greg Hertz, R-Polson, has promised to keep working on the bill to get it across the finish line.

Hertz, owner, and manager of Moody’s Market in Polson, MT, is a retail grocer who says he sees demand from constituents who want to purchase fresh foods, including raw milk, directly from Montana’s farmers and ranchers.

Montana in 2015 passed a Cottage Foods bill that has led to the start of 400 businesses, according to some officials. Hertz wants Montana to go further with Senate Bill (SB) 199, the Montana Food Freedom bill.  

The Hertz bill as drafted would largely deregulate raw milk and meat production in Montana, and the bill has already drawn a warning from USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

“The Department of Livestock has been informed by the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) that if SB 199 passes, the state meat inspection program under the Federal Meat Inspection Act would be suspended and therefore the 50-50 federal match to continue the state program would no longer be available,” the bill’s fiscal note says. “The state would need to fully fund a state meat inspection program.”

The State of Montana would lose $1.1 million in federal special revenue by the suspension of meat inspections, according to the fiscal note.

After a three-hour public hearing on Feb.22, Hertz bill was scheduled for a second reading Monday, March 1. The hearing brought plenty of raw milk advocates, but also on hand were public health officials and representatives from the pasteurized milk industry.

The state veterinarian also opposed several major elements of the bill.  A provision prohibiting the state from issuing a quarantine on small raw milk dairies involved in an outbreak drew is a significant concern for state regulators.

Hertz says he has already agreed to leave the state-federal meat inspection alone and he’s promised to make other fixes with amendments.

Here’s what’s in the draft so far:

NEW SECTION. Section 1. Short title — purpose. (1) This chapter may be cited as the “Montana Local Food Choice Act”.

(2) The purpose of this act is to allow for the sale and consumption of homemade food and food products and to encourage the expansion of agricultural sales by ranches, farms, and home-based producers and the accessibility of homemade food and food products to informed end consumers by:

(a) facilitating the purchase and consumption of fresh and local agricultural products;

(b) enhancing the agricultural economy; and

(c) providing Montana citizens with unimpeded access to healthy food from known sources.

 NEW SECTION. Section 2. Definitions. For purposes of this chapter, the following definitions apply:

(1) “Deliver” means to transfer a product as a result of a transaction between a producer and an informed end consumer. The action may be performed by the producer or the producer’s designated agent at a farm, ranch, home, office, traditional community social event, or another location agreed to between the producer or agent and the informed end consumer.

(2) “Home consumption” means:

(a) the consumption of food or a food product in a private home; or

(b) the consumption of food or a food product from a private home.

(3) “Homemade” means food or a food product that is prepared in a private home and that is not licensed, permitted, certified, packaged, labeled, or inspected per any official regulations.

(4) “Informed end consumer” means a person who is the last person to purchase a product, does not resell the product, and has been informed that the product is not licensed, permitted, certified, packaged, labeled, or inspected per any official regulations.

(5) (a) “Producer” means a person who harvests, produces, or prepares a product that may be consumed as homemade food or a homemade food product. The term includes a person operating a small dairy, as defined in 81-21-101.

(b) The term does not include the entities listed in [section 3(1)(c)].

(6) “Traditional community social event” means an event at which people gather as part of a community for the benefit of those gathering or for the benefit of the community, including but not limited to a:

(a) wedding;

(b) funeral;

(c) church or religious social;

(d) school event;

(e) farmer’s market;

(f) potluck;

(g) neighborhood gathering; or

(h) club meeting or social; or

(i) youth or adult outdoor club or sporting event.

(7) “Transaction” means an exchange of buying and selling, including the transfer of a product by delivery.

 NEW SECTION. Section 3. Exemptions from regulations — transactions — information required — exceptions. (1) (a) A state agency or an agency of a political subdivision of the state may not require licensure, permitting, certification, packaging, labeling, or inspection that pertains to the preparation, serving, use, consumption, delivery, or storage of homemade food or a homemade food product under this chapter.

(b) This chapter does not preclude an agency from providing assistance, consultation, or inspection requested by a producer.

(c) A producer as defined in this chapter is not:

(i) a retail food establishment, a cottage food operation, or a temporary food establishment, as each term is defined in 50-50-102;

(ii) a wholesale food manufacturing establishment, as defined in 50-57-102; or

(iii) a dairy or a manufactured dairy products plant, as defined in 81-22-101.

(d) A producer is not subject to labeling, licensure, inspection, sanitation, or other requirements or standards of 30-12-301; Title 50, chapter 31; or Title 81, chapters 2, 9, 21, or 22, or 23.

(2) Transactions pursuant to this chapter:

(a) must be directly between the producer and the informed end consumer;

(b) must be only for home consumption or consumption at a traditional community social event; and

(c) must occur only in this state and may not involve interstate commerce.

(3) Except as provided in subsection (7), a producer shall inform an end consumer that any homemade food or homemade food product sold through the ranch, farm, or home-based sales pursuant to this chapter has not been licensed, permitted, certified, packaged, labeled, or inspected per any official regulations.

(4) Except for raw, unprocessed fruit and vegetables, homemade food shall not be sold or used in a retail food establishment, as defined in 50-50-102, unless the food has been licensed, permitted, certified, packaged, labeled, and inspected as required by law.

(5) Except as provided in subsection (6) and pursuant to [sections 1 through 3], a producer may donate homemade food or homemade food products to a traditional community social event.

(6) A producer may not donate milk to a traditional community social event.

(7) (a) Meat or meat products sold pursuant to [sections 1 through 3] must be processed at a state-licensed or federally approved meat establishment that may not be used in the preparation of homemade food.

(b) Subsection (7)(a) does not apply to a producer, as defined in [section 2], who slaughters fewer than 1,000 poultry birds a year except that the producer is subject to the requirements of 9 CFR 381. The poultry or poultry products must not be adulterated or misbranded.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)