URGENT: Calls needed to help local foods in Texas
Amendments to help local food producers have just been added to a food safety bill, SB 81. These amendments include a cottage foods provision that exempts low-risk foods sold directly to consumers from regulation and a farmers market amendment to clarify and reduce some of the regulations on farmers market vendors.
The amended version of SB 81 will now go back to the Senate. The Senators can either concur in the amendments or the bill will have to go to conference committee where the differences in the two versions will be negotiated.
We need your help to keep these important amendments in SB 81! Time is very short. The final version of the bill must be adopted by both chambers by Sunday night. The legislators are working late and through the whole weekend, so you can call at any time of the day. Please call as soon as you can.
Details on the amendments are included at the end of the alert.
1) Call Senator Nelson, Chair of Health and Human Services Committee, at 512-463-0360. She is the author of SB 81, and her support is critical.
Message: My name is _____. I urge Chairwoman Nelson to concur in the House Amendments to SB 81, specifically the cottage foods and farmers market provisions.
2) Call your own Senator. If you are not sure who represents you, you can call the Capitol Switchboard at 512-463-4630 and ask to be connected, or look up your Senator online at http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/
Message: My name is _____. I am a constituent, and I urge Senator ______ to concur in the House Amendments to SB 81, specifically the cottage foods and farmers market provisions.
3) Call Lieutenant Governor Dewhurst at 512-463-0001 and urge him to support the cottage foods and farmers market amendment to SB 81.
You can read the amendments at http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/BillLookup/Amendments.aspx?LegSess=82R&Bill=SB81
The original version of SB 81, as authored by Senator Nelson, did one thing: it required wholesalers who package, wash, or ship fruit or vegetables to obtain a license. The bill continues to exempt farmers selling their own produce from the farm from licensing. The bill was introduced because of the many foodborne illness outbreaks that have occurred due to problems in the handling chain in the mainstream food system.
Representative Kolkhorst sponsored the bill in the House, and the House Public Health Committee adopted two changes to the original bill: (1) creating a voluntary food safety best practice education program, and providing that wholesale produce businesses who take that program may be inspected less often (thereby prioritizing education over inspections in preventing foodborne illness); and (2) requiring that when the State Health Department adopts a federal rule, the Department publish notice of the rule on its website with a clear explanation.
On the House floor, two more changes were made. Representative Kolkhorst added a cottage foods provision from her bill (HB 2084), and Representative Rodriguez added two provisions from his bill (HB 3387); both bills had died in the legislative process.
COTTAGE FOODS AMENDMENT
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.
The Kolkhost Amendment allows small-scale producers to sell specific low-risk foods directly to consumers without the expense and burdens of the current regulations. 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. The only requirement would be a label with the producers contact information and the statement that the food is not inspected by state or local health authorities.
At least eighteen other states have similar cottage foods laws already on the books. This amendment benefits local economies and small businesses by removing unnecessary regulatory burdens and promoting local food production. It recognizes that food produced by individuals on a small scale is different from food produced by the industrialized system in which the major food safety problems have occurred. Direct-to-consumer transactions provide greater transparency and accountability than could ever be achieved by government regulations.
FARMERS MARKET AMENDMENT
The Rodriguez Amendment helps farmers market vendors on two issues:
1. Provides clarity to Temporary Food Establishment permits: There has been a lot of confusion as to whether a local government can issue a temporary food establishment permit to vendors at farmers markets, because of state regulations that limit such permits to special events that last no longer than 14 days. Some local governments have limited the permits to 14 days out of the whole year, some have limited such permits to 14 days and allowed renewals, while others have denied farmers market vendors such permits entirely. This has created significant barriers for farmers and food vendors.
This amendment allows farmers and food vendors at farmers markets to obtain temporary food establishment permits for up to one year, without limiting permits based on the number of days during which the farmers market takes place. It recognizes that farmers markets are special events regardless of the number of days that they occur on, while providing the flexibility for local governments to decide the best option for their jurisdiction.
2. Prevents mandatory mechanical refrigeration or electric heating requirements: Another problem for farmers at farmers markets has been mandatory mechanical refrigeration or heating, requiring farmers to obtain expensive equipment that is not needed to maintain safe temperatures. The amendment allows the Department of State Health Services and local health authorities to establish safe temperature requirements while barring them from mandating how a farmer or food vendor would maintain the temperature. Therefore, food vendors will still have to meet temperature requirements, but without having to get costly equipment.
The only exception would be when a municipality owns the farmer’s market. In those cases, the municipality may specify the method to comply with food temperatures.
The Rodriguez Amendment does not apply to farmers markets in a county that has a population of less than 50,000 people and over which no local health department has jurisdiction.
Please help our local farmers and food producers by calling your Senator today and urging him or her to vote to adopt the House amendments to SB 81!
For more information, go to http://farmandranchfreedom.org/Texas-2011