Good news, bad news, and more still to come!

Action is still needed to support HB 2084, the local foods omnibus bill.  If the House does not vote on it tomorrow, the bill will die.  If you have not yet called your State Representative, please call TODAY to urge him or her to vote YES on HB 2084.  You can call the Capitol Switchboard at 512-463-4630 and ask to be connected to your Representative’s office, or you can look up who represents you online at http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us.  The legislators will be working late into the night, so you can call anytime. (More information on HB 2084 is included at the end of this alert.)

The good news is that HB 3387, the farmers market bill, has passed the Texas House of Representatives.  This bill addresses many of the problems that farmers and local food producers have faced due to overly burdensome and inappropriate regulation of farmers markets (more details are provided at the end of the alert).  Many thanks to Representative Eddie Rodriguez for introducing this bill and for working hard to get it through the House.

The next step for the bill is the Senate.  Senator Nelson, Chair of the Senate Health & Human Services Committee, has stated that she will sponsor HB 3387, so we’re off to a good start.  But time is short and we’ll need to keep the bill moving.  Stay tuned for the next alert.

With more good news, Representative Miles’ three urban farming bills also passed the House.  These bills would establish an urban farm microenterprise support program, an Urban Agricultural Innovation Authority, and an urban farming pilot program.  They will also have to go through the Senate process now.

The bad news is that HB 75, the raw milk bill, is dead.  This is deeply disappointing for both farmers and consumers.  Our raw milk supporters made an incredible showing at the Public Health Committee, both in numbers and in the quality of the testimony.  The other side provided only unsubstantiated fear mongering aimed at protecting the power and control of the large dairy industry.  Unfortunately, the combination of the dairy industry and the medical establishment succeeded in preventing the bill from even getting a Committee vote. 

Despite the disappointment, it is important to recognize the very real progress that we made in the effort to pass HB 75.  Before this year, many legislators had never even heard of raw milk and assumed that the only option was the pasteurized product from the factory farms.  After hearing from their constituents, 24 Representatives from both parties and all over the State joined Representative Flynn as joint and co-authors of the bill.  Many others expressed their support for the bill during meetings with FARFA members.  Legislators and staffers who tried raw milk were personally impressed by its quality.  Raw milk has gone from being unknown to being recognized as a significant, positive issue.

The fight is far from over.  Bills often take more than one session to succeed, and we will spend the next year and a half laying the groundwork to bring back the raw milk bill in the next legislative session.  Big Ag’s control over our food supply has taken decades to develop, and it will take time and sustained efforts to take back control of our food supply.  

Thank you all for your support in the recent months.  Your phone calls, donations, and physical presence at the Legislature has helped affect the laws governing our farms and our food.  Please watch for action alerts in the coming weeks with information on how you can help keep HB 3387 and HB 2084 moving, and what you can do to continue making an impact.>

MORE INFORMATION on HB 3387, the farmers market bill

HB 3387, the farmers market bill, is designed to address the problems facing farmers and local food producers at farmers markets around the State.  The situation is complex and confusing because the existing state regulations are ambiguous and convoluted.  Multiple different local governments have interpreted the current state regulations to impose serious burdens on farmers markets that did nothing to truly address food safety, but simply served as a barrier to the growth of the local foods movement.

Here are some of the requirements that have been imposed by local governments based on their interpretation of the state regulations:

* a complete ban on offering slices of fruits or vegetables as samples
* where samples are allowed, requiring a 3-basin sink for washing utensils, including chlorine baths
* mandating mechanical refrigeration for cold foods, so that the farmers must run a generator in their truck for the entire drive to and from the market and throughout the market – regardless of whether the farmer would be able to keep the foods at the required temperatures with a simple cooler and ice packs
* limiting the ability of chefs to obtain permits to 14 days out of the entire year, even though many markets are open 52 weeks.

HB 3387 would address these issues.  The bill establishes reasonable sanitary standards for providing food samples at an open-air farmers market; authorizes permits for hot food preparation without limitation on the number of days during the year; and bars state or local authorities from mandating how vendors must meet the temperature requirements.

MORE INFORMATION on HB 2084, the local foods omnibus and cottage foods bill

If you have not yet called your State Representative, please call TODAY to urge him or her to vote YES on HB 2084.  You can call the Capitol Switchboard at 512-463-4630 and ask to be connected to your Representative’s office, or you can look up who represents you online at http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us

Under current law, anyone who prepares any food for sale must have a commercial kitchen license.  The cost of a commercial kitchen can be prohibitive for start-up businesses and small-scale producers.

HB 2084 would allow small-scale producers selling specific low-risk foods directly to consumers to do so without the expense and burdens of the current commercial kitchen requirements. The listed foods are baked goods, jams, jellies, and dried herbs, all of which are recognized as non-hazardous by FDA. Individuals selling less than $50,000 of these foods directly to consumers either from their own home or at a farmers market would be exempt from regulation.

At least eighteen other states have similar laws already on the books: Alabama, Connecticut, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and Wyoming.

HB 2084 was unanimously approved by the Public Health Committee. Over 150 people and organizations registered in support, including the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, Sustainable Food Center, Texas Impact, and Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.

HB 2084 also helps local foods by calling for legislative hearings on the following issues:

*  Helping small-scale cheesemakers: Due to a 2007 bill, fees on small-scale cheesemakers and dairy producers have gone up from as little as $52/yr to as much as $600/yr, depending on the size of the producer and their source of milk.  These fees threaten to drive small producers out of business.

*  Improving access to healthy, local foods for low-income individuals: The SNAP program (formerly Food Stamps) is administered at the state level using Electronic Benefits Transfer (“EBT”), similar to debit cards. The state provides EBT terminals to retailers, but these wired terminals are not practical for outdoor farmers’ markets. Farmers markets provide access to fresh fruits and vegetables in “food deserts” and underserved communities with less overhead expense and construction time as compared to establishing a supermarket or grocery store.

*  Providing for fair property tax treatment: Under Section 23.51 of the Tax Code, “qualified open space land” includes land “devoted principally to agricultural use to the degree of intensity generally accepted in the area.” But community gardens, urban farms, family farms raising fruits and vegetables, and sustainable livestock farms have often been denied fair property tax valuations under the claim that they are not truly “agricultural” uses.  If the land is being used primarily to produce food to feed people, it should be valued as such.

For more information, go to www.FarmAndRanchFreedom.org

Last updated: 9/21/11