The Sue Wallis-lead "Food Freedom Act" in Wyoming is really more than a little concerning considering the depth of all the anti-government, natural human rights rhetoric being espoused in support of it. Is this really even about public safety and health anymore? Seems more like an agenda than anything, and bad policy.
In any event, there is certainly no need, not even in support of legitimate human or constitutional rights, to completely deregulate any aspect of our food supply, unless its food grown, raised, or produced for one’s own personal consumption. Here is the Star-Tribune’s take on the issue:
The "Wyoming Food Freedom Act" stalled in the Senate Agriculture Committee earlier this year, for good reason. By trying to stop some government regulation of the food industry, supporters wanted to remove important safeguards used to protect consumers from potentially becoming sick.
But in these tea party times, when regulation is too often miscast as the enemy of the people, there’s a chance the "food freedom" movement could gain momentum in Wyoming. At a Tuesday meeting in Buffalo, the Legislature’s Joint Agriculture Committee backed a bill that would allow ranchers and other home-based food producers to sell their goods directly to consumers without government oversight. The panel also voted to sponsor a measure that would legalize the sale of raw milk through questionable "herd-share agreements."
We hope the committee members and other lawmakers will carefully study the food safety issues involved and again conclude that these bills are not in the best interests of Wyoming residents. There may indeed be some areas where government has too much control over people’s lives, but the sale of safe food is not one of them.
It’s easy to see why those pushing this legislation have won some converts. At first glance, their arguments don’t seem unreasonable. Rep. Sue Wallis, R-Recluse, the primary sponsor, asked, "We as Americans have the right to buy the food we choose, or do we not? That is the philosophical question."
What Wallis’ bill fails to address is the public’s right to be free from a marketplace that permits the sale of food that can cause illness or death. That’s the real freedom at stake here.
No federal or state laws dictate what you can produce to feed yourself or your family. If you want to drink raw milk, you can buy a milk cow. You can also raise livestock or take wild game and process meat for your family’s consumption. Government regulation only applies when you sell food to someone else.
The problem is that once the door has been opened to unregulated sale of potentially hazardous food items, there’s no guarantee that consumers will be informed about the potential dangers. A provision in the bill would allow for unregulated food sales at farmers’ markets and other community events operated by nonprofit groups. Robert Harrington, director of the Casper-Natrona County Health Department, correctly told the panel, "We keep getting sidetracked with the assumption that somehow nonprofit status makes an event immune from contamination." Of course, it doesn’t.
The committee did improve the measure by removing a section that had authorized the sale of unregulated meat and raw milk, as long as it was sold directly from the producer to a consumer. Federal rules prohibit meat from being sold without inspection. State regulators were rightfully worried that the feds might respond by closing state-inspected meat plants.
Another bill, however, would authorize herd-share agreements to sell raw milk, which is now prohibited in Wyoming. Such agreements allow consumers to buy a share of a cow or goat, paying a rancher for a portion of its care in exchange for milk produced by the animal.
Dean Finkenbinder, the Wyoming Department of Agriculture’s manager of consumer health services, said this year there have been nine outbreaks of illnesses in states that allow raw milk to be sold. "If this goes through, it will happen in Wyoming," he predicted.
There should be no question that the necessity of food safety trumps unnecessary fears about overregulation.