On March 21 Governor Gary Herbert signed the Home Consumption and Homemade Food Act (House Bill 181 – HB 181) into law, making Utah the fourth state after Wyoming, North Dakota and Maine to adopt food freedom legislation. Utah, with a population over 3 million, is the most populous state to pass a food freedom bill so far. The population of the capital, Salt Lake City, is a little under 200,000; the Salt Lake metro area population is over one million.
Two days prior, on March 19, Herbert signed Senate Bill 108 (SB 108), legislation increasing opportunities for the permitted sales of raw milk as well as expanding consumer access to the product. It’s been some week for supporters of local food in the state. The mother-daughter team of farmers Symbria and Sara Patterson were the driving force behind both bills. Both pieces of legislation go into effect immediately.
HB 181 allows the unregulated sale of all foods within Utah except raw dairy and meat products direct from the producer to an “informed final consumer.” There are two exceptions to the prohibition on the unregulated sale of meat products. Producers can sell poultry and poultry products under the bill as long as they slaughter less than 1,000 birds a year. Producers of domesticated rabbit meat are also able to sell direct to consumers without regulation “pending approval from the United States Department of Agriculture that the state’s role in meat inspection is preserved”–approval that shouldn’t be more than a formality.
Sales under the bill can be made at a farm, ranch, “direct-to-sale farmers market”, home, office or any location agreed upon between the producer and consumer. The only requirement for producers is that they inform consumers that the food sold has “not been certified, licensed, regulated or inspected by state or local authorities.” If producers are selling at a farmers market, they must display signage indicating this information; producers selling without regulation at the farmers market must be separated from other vendors at the market.
SB 108 allows producers with a permit to deliver and sell raw milk “from a mobile unit where the raw milk is maintained through mechanical refrigeration at 41 degrees Fahrenheit or a lower temperature.” Under prior law licensed dairies could only sell raw milk on the farm or at a retail store if the dairy had a majority ownership interest in the store–only two of the state’s ten permitted dairies meet this requirement.
SB 108 also allows unpermitted dairies to sell up to 120 gallons of raw milk per month direct to the consumer on the farm. Producers selling under this exemption must comply with labeling, recordkeeping, animal health and milk testing requirements; producers must also notify the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food (UDAF) “of their intent to sell raw milk.”
Symbria and Sara Patterson have taken time off from the farm each of the last four legislative sessions to lobby for legislation they have developed promoting unregulated producer-to-consumer direct trade. The Pattersons are respectful but persistent. In 2015 they were successful in getting micro-dairy herdshare legislation passed despite opposition from Utah Farm Bureau, the state dairy industry, and UDAF. In 2016 and 2017 they worked on food freedom legislation that did not make it out of committee–showing the tremendous progress they have made in a short period of time. As the session went on, opposition to HB 181 and SB 108 steadily decreased; HB 181 passed unanimously in the Senate and SB 108 did the same in the House.
The Pattersons have put together a formidable team to work on local food legislation consisting of Representative Marc Roberts, lobbyist Royce Van Tassell and farmer/analyst Paula Milby. Roberts has been the champion of food freedom in the Utah legislature the past four years, patiently staying the course when the opposition to the bills he introduced looked to be overwhelming. He, the Pattersons, Van Tassell and Milby showed a knack this past session for crafting legislation that would minimize opposition while not compromising what they were trying to accomplish. Connor Boyack, the president of the non-profit Libertas Institute, has helped significantly since 2015.
The Pattesons received earlier funding to help their legislative work from the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund and State Policy Network but thanks to their formation of the non-profit Red Acre Center (RAC), they are now able to pay for lobbying and other expenses related to legislative efforts through donations to RAC–among expenses is paying for a farm manager when the Pattersons are away lobbying in the capital, Salt Lake City. Their Red Acre Farm in Cedar City operates a thriving vegetable CSA and sells meat and poultry products as well. The RAC is an education and advocacy nonprofit center that holds an annual conference in January; it has quickly become part of the conversation about who the influential organizations are in Utah food and agricultural policy. The Pattersons are building Red Acre Center for the long haul to be part of the political and educational landscape of food and agriculture in the state.
An interesting dynamic in SB 108 was that the bill likely would not have passed without the support of the Utah business empire, Redmond Inc. Redmond is primarily known for its manufacture of salt but it also has a raw milk operation, Redmond Heritage Dairy, that sells raw milk in several stores Redmond owns throughout Utah. Redmond wanted SB 108 to pass so it could deliver around the state. The company was the driver behind 2007 legislation that banned herdshares while allowing the sale of raw milk retail stores by a permitted producer that held a majority ownership interest in the store selling the raw milk. The Pattersons partially rectified the ban on herdshares with the 2015 legislation legalizing micro-dairy herdshare programs; they worked with officials from Redmond on the passage of SB 108.
RAC has joined Redmond, Utah Farm Bureau, the conventional dairy industry and UDAF as a player in Utah food and agriculture legislation. For Red Acre Center it shows the success that can result when you have a few dedicated individuals that don’t take “no” for an answer.