Local food, raw milk bills head to Wyoming’s General Session in January
A series of bills relating to the local food industry in Wyoming will appear before the Wyoming legislature in the 2011 General Session, which begins mid-January.
At its fall meeting, the Joint Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Interim Committee discussed the bills, which are the Wyoming Traditional Food Act, the Wyoming Food Freedom Act and two bills dealing with the sale of raw milk.
Of the Wyoming Traditional Food Act, Wyoming Department of Agriculture (WDA) manager of consumer health services Dean Finkenbinder expressed concern over whether it would reach into requiring inspections for nonprofit groups serving food. Senator Eli Bebout assured him nonprofits would not be included, as the bill specifically mentions “non-paying guests.”
“That narrows down the focus, leaving out churches, social events and non-profits,” said Bebout.
Of the Wyoming Food Freedom Act, Representative Sue Wallis said, “What this seeks to do is allow for a private transaction between two individuals. The raw milk bills provide a way for people to deal with that one specific product, while this one is all food.
“We’ve attempted to hone it down to a limited and targeted circumstance, where we allow a producer and an informed end consumer, who clearly understands exactly what they’re buying, and who’s choosing to do that with someone with whom they have a direct relationship, to complete that transaction without government interference.”
Senator Gerald Geis pointed out that taking products to a farmer’s market is different than taking them directly from the producer’s place to the consumer’s freezer.
“There is a legitimate public health concern, and we’ve tried to limit this so no one who wasn’t seeking that particular food would be endangered by something they didn’t choose to actively seek out,” replied Wallis.
Representative Stan Blake said the problem is that a farmer’s market’s goal is multiple private transactions, a concern that Senator Jim Elliot echoed.
The committee passed Wyoming Food Freedom Act, and it will first be debated in the House come the 2011 General Session.
Of the raw milk bills, Finkenbinder said the WDA is not in favor of the sale of raw milk, because of known outbreaks associated with its sale.
“There have been nine outbreaks of food borne illnesses from raw milk in states that allow its sale this year. Of 43 members in a single herd share, 30 people became ill. If this goes through, this will happen in Wyoming,” said Finkenbinder.
Wallis said the first bill models Colorado law, and in Colorado there’s a raw milk association that provides for testing and milk samples.
“If the bill goes forward, one thing worth looking at is an association, rather than another layer of responsibility for the WDA,” said Wallis.
“In Colorado this has been a huge boon to small places that are now able to sell to a very willing consumer, who seeks out unpasteurized milk for what they believe are health benefits. The Department is bound to stick with what the federal government promotes, but many people believe they are not looking at beneficial aspects as well.”
Brett Moline of the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation pointed out that selling raw milk could affect an operation’s liability coverage. “This type of activity could be out of the normal acts of most farmers and ranchers, so this could cause a gap,” he said. To make sure the coverage is there, he said some insurance companies in Wyoming might have to go through a broker, as Wyoming is a non-dairy state.
Wyoming State Veterinarian Jim Logan added that, if the raw milk bills pass, having test requirement on the milk would be important.
“There are many more things than brucellosis or tuberculosis that can cause problems, among those are Yoni’s disease and, even more specifically, Q fever. There’s an opportunity for numerous people to be exposed. Currently there’s a huge outbreak of Q fever in the Netherlands, and thousands of people have been infected. Testing would be necessary, and I would urge caution with the requirements,” said Logan.
Representative David Zwonitzer added, “It’s a civil liability issue, but when you own part of a share, you can’t sue anyone. There’s no one to fall back on besides yourself. The herd share program is set up to allow this process to happen. I believe they’ll operate to full and best practices, because the last thing they want is to lose their operation.”
The first raw milk bill passed by a slim vote of seven committee members in favor and six against.
The second bill would allow dairies to become state licensed and then sell unpasteurized milk, and the committee denied its support.