That “Montana Local Food Choice Act” is out of committee in its second house, showing all the signs of a bill that will cross the finish line. The Montana Legislature plans to adjourn by April 28.
Senate Bill (SB) 199 passed the Montana Senate, 31-18, and has since cleared the House Human Services Committee. Any House amendments are due by April 16, so there is time for the Senate to consider them.
SB 199 is a “Food Freedom” measure to open more direct consumer purchases from producers. It is similar to the 2015 “Food Freedom” law adopted by the Wyoming Legislature.
Producers of raw milk, for example, would be permitted under SB 199 to sell directly to consumers without any licensing or inspection by any government.
SB 199 extends the state’s Cottage Foods law that Montana lawmakers passed in 2015. Small producers of raw milk, under the bill, would be able to sell their unpasteurized products directly to consumers.
Sen. Greg Hertz, R- Polson, addressed the House Human Services Committee about the bill he is sponsoring: “I am not asking for any grants; I am not asking for any credits. I am just asking the government to get out of our way.”
Senate and committee votes have been mainly along party lines, with Sen. Shane Morigeau, D-Missoula, being an exception. He voted for SB 199 because it would release homemade food producers from “cottage food” licenses and inspections.
The GOP controls both houses of the Montana Legislature and also holds the governor’s office.
Hertz earlier withdrew meat and meat products from his bill. He did not want to risk upsetting Montana’s relationship with USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). A federal program with 50 percent funding provides for Montana’s meat inspection and licensing.
But raw milk and meatless homemade foods are covered by the bill. Sales are not permitted to retailers or restaurants, only person-to-person transactions. The bill does allow a person to purchase homemade food for “traditional community social events,” including weddings, funerals, or potluck dinners.
The six-year-old Cottage Food Act is put through regulatory reform by the Local Food Choice Act. For example, home cooks would not have to provide any further labeling than “homemade.”
That means food produced and sold under the Local Food Choice Act will be difficult to track if there is a problem. State Veterinarian Marty Zaluski provided lawmakers with CDC data showing the likelihood of getting sick from raw milk is 150 times higher than when drinking pasteurized milk.
Past sessions of the Montana Legislature since 2013 sought help for raw milk producers through so-called small herd exemptions or outright legalization. Small herd exemptions permit natural milk sales, but only from dairies with a certain number of cows.
The General Court of New Hampshire is also considering a raw milk bill. House Bill (HB) 95 has made it to a committee in the second house.
The bill would allow frozen yogurt and ice cream made from raw milk in six-ounce containers (or less) and sold within a 30-day expiration date from the manufactures.
New Hampshire permits 20 gallons of raw milk or product per day with cheese, yogurt, and kefir now allowed.
“Every product you can make is super helpful,” says cheesemaker Benjamin Meier. “The New Hampshire dairy system has been declining for 10 years. You can’t make it as a dairy farm selling milk alone.”
New Hampshire lawmakers are in session until June 28.