Making a Difference in Tennessee


The story of Michele Reneau serves as an example of how a consumer can make an impact in advancing freedom of food choice. Reneau, who along with Nate and Anju Wilson manages a Chattanooga food buyers club, was the one most responsible for turning a potential enforcement action by the Tennessee Department of Agriculture (TDA) into a legislative breakthrough and a new law benefiting food buyers clubs throughout the state.

Reneau, a Weston Price chapter leader and Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF) member, has the right temperament and personality to take on government regulators. She doesn’t accept their general assertions of authority, contesting the regulators point by point—asking for specific citations in the law to back up their claims. She gives up ground to regulators grudgingly and is a strong believer that there is a legal distinction between the private and the public distribution of food.

Reneau, along with the Wilsons, manages the Weekly Fig, a private membership association. Among other foods, Weekly Fig distributes meats, eggs, raw dairy and baked goods to its members. On May 4, 2016, an official from TDA attempted to inspect the Weekly Fig’s facility for the storage and distribution of food. TDA had discovered Weekly Fig through the inspection of a neighboring licensed facility in the same complex. Reneau refused to let TDA conduct the inspection of the buyers club facility claiming TDA did not have jurisdiction over her operation. On June 6 counsel for TDA sent Reneau and the Wilsons a warning letter identifying violations the Weekly Fig had allegedly committed, including operating an unlicensed establishment, offering for sale raw juice, and offering for sale raw milk and raw milk products.

An informal hearing was held on the matter June 30 between a representative for Weekly Fig and TDA officials; subsequently, the department sent Weekly Fig correspondence upholding the written warnings against their unlicensed operation of a “food establishment” and their sale of raw milk, putting Reneau and the Wilsons on notice that “future violations of the same or similar sort—i.e. unlicensed operation as a food establishment or sale of raw milk—will be considered grounds for the Department to seek actions for injunction and/or criminal charges.”

With there not being favorable case law on a legal distinction between public and private distribution of food, Reneau took the legislative route to fight back against the threat from TDA. On February 8, 2017, Tennessee State Senator Frank Niceley and State Representative Kevin Brooks introduced, respectively, Senate Bill 651 and House Bill 702, legislation providing that no permit is required to operate “a farm to consumer distribution point” (e.g., food buyers club). The bills were amended to add that the facility must register with the state department of revenue for purposes of paying sales tax 1 and must agree to only allow deliveries of meats produced by farmers who comply with the Tennessee Meat and Poultry Inspection Act; these are both existing requirements the facility is expected to comply with anyway. On May 11, 2017, SB 651 was signed into law. Reneau testified at the Senate committee hearing on the bill and, according to Senator Niceley, did a great job. FTCLDF worked on the development of the bill.

SB 651 is a big help for farmers; consumers like their convenience and will go more often to a centrally located buyers club site to spend their food dollar than they would going to a farm. Unless there was an exemption from the permit requirement, many food buyers clubs would not bother having a fixed central location for the distribution of food.

It would be great to end by saying the government is leaving Weekly Fig alone with the new law in place but that hasn’t been the case. Even though state regulatory agencies have stopped bothering the food buyers club 2, for the past several months USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) has been requesting that FSIS personnel be allowed to conduct an inspection of the Weekly Fig facility. FSIS has broad jurisdiction to inspect firms handling meat products but almost never uses it to inspect a facility like the Weekly Fig’s. The agency is asking for customer records detailing meat purchases and sales. The Weekly Fig’s charter prohibits the sharing of member information with anyone.

Reneau doesn’t know who made the complaint to FSIS but it doesn’t look like a coincidence the complaint was made shortly before SB 651 became law. Reneau, as she did with TDA, is contesting FSIS jurisdiction to inspect the facility by requesting that the agency give her specific citations in the law giving it the authority to inspect Weekly Fig; she is not giving FSIS an inch until it does so. To this point the agency has yet to attempt an inspection.

What Reneau and the Wilsons have done is to realize the potential consumers have to make changes in the laws governing local food. They have shown it doesn’t take many to make a difference.

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1 Food sold for human consumption is taxable in Tennessee.

2 TDA has stopped pursuing any action against the Weekly Fig over the allegation that it was selling raw milk. The Weekly Fig does not sell raw milk and raw milk products, rather it distributes them to its members pursuant to a herdshare agreement; herdshare contracts are legal in Tennessee.

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Food Freedom Movement Spreading State to State

In March 2015, Wyoming passed its Food Freedom Act, a groundbreaking law that deregulates many homegrown farm foods sold direct-to-consumer. Wyoming State Representative Tyler Lindholm, who co-sponsored the bill, predicted that farmers in the state would immediately feel positive impacts from the changes in regulation.

So how has it been going?

Lindholm says, “Wyoming’s first season under the Wyoming Food Freedom Act was one of bounty without a doubt…the results have been exactly what we all knew already. The free market will thrive if given the chance…I’ve talked with several Farmers Markets and their managers and have found the numbers being reported as doubling the number of consumers and produces in a multitude of products.”

Wyoming’s success is apparently inspiring other states, including Utah, to consider their own food freedom bills.

Read more via Reason.com.

To learn more about raw milk and other nutrient dense foods, visit westonaprice.org

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Through the Eyes of a Food Freedom Fighter in Maine

This year, Maine is considering several “food freedom” bills (including a bill just passed by the House of Representatives that would loosen restrictions on raw milk sales), earning national attention from those who believe it is a human right to acquire fresh wholesome foods without interference from government regulators.

Maine Representative Craig Hickman is proposing an amendment to the Maine constitution that would legitimize and protect private food sales between producers and consumers. “Right to Food” reads: Every Individual has a natural and unalienable right to food and to acquire food for that individual’s own nourishment and sustenance by hunting, gathering, foraging, farming, fishing, or gardening or by barter, trade or purchase from sources of that individual’s own choosing, and every individual is fully responsible for the exercise of this right, which may not be infringed.

Joel Salatin, who recently testified before a Maine legislative committee in support of this amendment, shared a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at this hearing and the tension between the two opposing sides. He describes how 30 people showed up to testify in support of the amendment, while 2 testified against it. Predictably, the two that testified against were from the Maine Farm Bureau Federation and the Maine Department of Agriculture, and their remarks illustrated how “the orthodoxy of the industrial food system has no clue what our food freedom tribe thinks and can’t imagine why we can’t be satisfied with pasteurized milk, Hot Pockets, or microwaveable frozen dinners. They see this as choice; we see it as poison.”

Read more via his Facebook post here, Joel Salatin on Maine “Food Orthodoxy vs. Heresy”.

Support the Campaign for Real Milk, join the Weston A. Price Foundation, today!

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Wyoming House of Representatives to Vote on Food Freedom Bill

The Wyoming House of Representatives is preparing to deliver a final vote on House Bill 56, the “Wyoming Food Freedom Act,” which would legalize the sales of homegrown foods from farms directly to consumers without interference from the state.

Wyoming House Bill 56 would apply to all homemade and homegrown foods, including raw milk, eggs, jam and other commonly purchased farm goods. Essentially, this bill would, “…exempt so-called single transactions of food between the producer and any ‘informed end consumer’ from inspections, licensing and certifications by the state” (see Wyoming House Ready to Vote on Food Freedom on Food Safety News).

One of the bill’s sponsors, Representative Tyler Lindholm, points out that people all across Wyoming are already purchasing such foods from neighboring farmers and ranchers; this bill simply legalizes sales that are already happening – sales that shouldn’t be regulated by the state in the first place.

The Wyoming House Agriculture, State and Public Lands & Water Resources Committee already approved Bill 56 by an 8-1 vote in January 2015.

Realmilk.com is a consumer education project of the Weston A. Price Foundation, a nutrition education nonprofit based in Washington, D.C. Visit their website, westonaprice.org.

 

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Why Does the USDA Need Submachine Guns?

Many people are asking “Why would the USDA need Submachine Guns?”

In May 2014, the US Department of Agriculture filed a request for weapons including submachine guns and semi-automatic or 2 shot burst trigger guns. This request has many, including the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund, questioning what need the USDA could possibly have for such heavy arms.

According to a USDA spokesperson, the weapons are necessary for self-defense during undercover operations and surveillance. As Modern Farmer points out, this sounds like a legitimate reason when, in actuality, most of their enforcement operations relate to white-collar fraud of government programs like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Nor would such heavy arms be necessary in on-ground investigations into small farms and producers – for example, investigations and raids surrounding whether small farms are selling raw milk.

“Do we really want to have our federal regulatory agencies bring submachine guns onto these family farms with children?” asks Liz Reitzig, co-founder of the Farm Food Freedom Coalition.

The Campaign for Real Milk is a project of the Weston A. Price Foundation, a nutrition education non-profit based in Washington, D.C. To learn more about raw milk and other nutrient dense foods, attend one of the upcoming Wise Traditions conferences.

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Day of Action to Support Federal Food Freedom Bills: May 6, 2014

The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund is asking those who believe in food freedom and consumer choice to make their voices heard during a Day of Action on Tuesday, May 6.

If you believe that Americans have the right to buy wholesome, natural foods from local farms, please contact your state representatives on Tuesday, May 6 and urge them to support bills HB 4307 and HB 4308 to end federal crackdown on the distribution of raw milk.

A short video by the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund provides a brief glimpse into the contentious history between public health officials and raw milk producers, and explains what these two bills will do to alleviate the persecution of raw milk producers.

“You don’t need to drink raw milk to support others’ rights to peacefully procure the foods of their choice from the producer of their choice,” urges the narrator in the video. “Please call your Congressperson and ask them to support these two bills.”

The Campaign for Real Milk is a project of the nutrition education non-profit, The Weston A. Price Foundation. Donate to help fund research into the benefits of nutrient dense foods.  http://www.westonaprice.org/lab

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