The Department of Control Strikes Again

For the fourth time in 2 years, the North Dakota Department of Health (NDDH) is trying to water down the state cottage food law, also known as the 2017 North Dakota Food Freedom Act (FFA). The FFA allows the unregulated sale by producers direct to consumers except those foods that have either meat or raw dairy as an ingredient. NDDH has issued proposed regulations that would make illegal the unregulated sale of a number of foods that are currently legal under the 2017 law. In doing so, NDDH is overstepping its authority and is arguably hurting food safety; the proposed regulations are not about food safety–they are about control.

The FFA clearly states, “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a state agency or political subdivision may not require licensure, permitting, certification, inspection, packaging, or labeling that pertains to the preparation or sale of cottage food products under this section….” Under the FFA, “cottage food product” means “baked goods, jams, jellies, and other food and drink products produced by a cottage food operator”; it was the NDDH that actually convinced the legislature to adopt this definition for the FFA. The legislature initially included the unregulated sale of raw dairy products in the FFA but pulled those foods out of the bill. The FFA excludes the sale of any uninspected products made from meat. There is no exclusion on any other foods in the FFA.

Shortly after the legislation passed in 2017, NDDH issued a guidance document for the FFA that prohibited the sale of a number of foods other than meat and raw dairy. FFA supporters didn’t abide by NDDH’s interpretation of the law; in 2018 the department followed up with proposed rules that would have again banned the unregulated sale of foods that are legal under the FFA. When food freedom proponents and members of the legislature defeated that effort, NDDH through its allies in the legislature introduced a bill in the 2019 session to roll back the FFA. The legislation, Senate Bill 2269 (SB 2269), as introduced would not only have prohibited the unregulated sale of a number of legal foods but also would have banned the unregulated sale of all drink products. The House of Representatives eventually killed the bill. SB 2269 represents the only legal attempt NDDH has made to dilute the FFA.

The proposed regulations have a number of the same changes that were in the bill that the legislature rejected. Among other things, the bill would have changed the law by making the unregulated sale of low-acid canned foods such as carrots, beets or beans illegal. The rules would prohibit the sale of unrefrigerated foods unless they are frozen–foods such as banana cream pie, potato salad, and carrot and celery sticks would all be affected. The proposed rules define “frozen foods” as foods maintained at temperatures no higher than zero degrees Fahrenheit.

The FFA allows the sale of all foods subject to time and temperature control other than those with meat or raw dairy as an ingredient. The proposed rules would limit the sale of time-and-temperature-control foods to baked goods (e.g., cream pies that are “frozen”) and home processed fresh-cut fruits and vegetables that are either “dehydrated or freeze-dried” or “blanched and frozen” ( i.e., no longer fresh).

The FFA specifically states that no government agency can require licensure for anything pertaining to the preparation of cottage food products, but that is what NDDH is trying to do in prohibiting the unlicensed sale of many foods that are currently legal to sell without a license. There are also labeling and certification requirements elsewhere in the proposed rules, both in violation of the FFA.

Beyond the proposed rules exceeding NDDH’s authority, what makes the department’s action a waste of taxpayer dollars is that in the two-plus years the FFA has been in effect, there has not been a single case of foodborne illness attributed to a producer operating under the state cottage food law. Cottage foods are thriving in the state, bringing in an estimated $1.5 million per year for producers and their families.1 The rules are a “solution” in search of a problem.

The experience of other states allowing the unregulated sale of time-and-temperature-control foods is similar to North Dakota. Towns in Maine have allowed the selling without regulation time-and-temperature-control foods direct from producer to consumer other than meat and poultry as far back as 2011 under local food sovereignty ordinances; no case of foodborne illness has been attributed to any producer operating under the ordinance. Under the Wyoming Food Freedom Act, producers in that state can sell any food product other than meat without regulation; in the 4-1/2 years since the law went into effect, no one operating under the Act has been found to make anyone sick. The same goes for the Utah Homemade Food Act which went into effect over a year-and-a-half ago, that Act allows the sale of all foods other than meat and raw dairy from the producer direct to the consumer without regulation.

The track record in these states indicates that NDDH’s proposed rules would hurt food safety in North Dakota if they become law. Some producers currently selling under the FFA will not be able to afford the cost of compliance if a license is required for the foods they sell require; others currently producing safe and nutritious food will stop if the law requires them to get a license because they don’t want a government inspector in their home kitchens. Fewer local producers will likely result in more purchases of industrial food which has a higher rate of foodborne illness outbreaks then foods produced under the FFA. The more producers operating under the cottage food law the better the public health is served. Instead of trying to dilute the FFA, there are ways NDDH could be spending taxpayer dollars productively to work with cottage food producers. Farmer LeAnn Harner, a leader in the North Dakota Food Freedom Movement, pointed out that the department could help provide education, equipment, and free testing of recipes to cottage food producers.2 The more cottage food producers there are, the safer the food supply, the stronger the local economy, the more self-sufficient communities will be in food production, and the better the health of North Dakota residents.

NDDH has a chance to be an agency that promotes the production and sale of nutritious food rather than being a bureaucracy that restricts it or, in the words of North Dakota Representative Daniel Johnston (R-Kathryn), “the Department of Control”.3

North Dakota residents have until October 12th to comment on the proposed rules. It is important to call and or email NDDH asking that they withdraw the proposed rules. The phone number for the Division of Food and Lodging is 1-701-328-1291 or 1-800-472-2927; the email address is foodandlodging@nd.gov.

Please take action now.

If you are a producer affected by the proposed rules, let NDDH know what products you sell and how the Food Freedom Act has helped your business.

Consumers should let NDDH know what healthy nutrient-dense products the Food Freedom Act has enabled them to purchase direct from producers.

———

[1] Harner, LeAnn. “Testimony of Cottage Food Rules”. North Dakota Department of Health hearing on proposed rules, Bismarck, North Dakota. October 2, 2019.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Dura, Jack. “North Dakota Department of Health accused of ‘arrogance’, confusion in proposed cottage food rules”, Bismarck Tribune, October 2, 2019. Accessed at https://bismarcktribune.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/north-dakota-department-of-health-accused-of-arrogance-confusion-in/article_d800a478-ac7d-5a88-8a6c-2f841cf81b96.html

photo by XXX from Pixabay

Utah Raw Milk and Homemade Food Bills Now Law


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.

STATE RAW MILK BILLS – 2018 UPDATE


There have been raw milk bills before the legislature in ten different states so far this current session. A bill has made it to the governor’s desk in Utah and there is legislation in at least a couple of other states that has a realistic chance of passing, including Louisiana which is one of seven states left where any raw milk sales or distribution is illegal. Bills before the legislatures include:

IOWA House File 2055 (HF 2055) would allow the unregulated sale of raw milk and raw milk products on-farm and through delivery. There is a labeling requirement that there be a statement on the container notifying consumers that the product has not been inspected and is not subject to public health regulations. Bills have also been introduced in the Iowa legislature that would legalize raw pet milk sales (HF 2057) and the distribution of raw milk through herdshares (HF 2056) but HF 2055 is the only raw milk bill the legislature has considered so far. On January 30 a subcommittee of the House Committee on Local Government recommended passage by a 2-1 vote; the bill is now before the full committee. Iowa is one of the remaining states that prohibits any raw milk distribution.

LOUISIANA companion bills, Senate Bill 188 (SB 188) and House Bill 437 (HB 437), have been introduced that would allow the on-farm sale of either cow milk or goat milk of an average of 500 gallons per month. No permit is required but producers are subject to inspection and must comply with milk testing, herd health, and sanitary standards as well as a labeling requirement that there be a warning that the raw milk may contain harmful bacteria. The bills are a reintroduction of Senate Bill 29 (SB 29) that nearly passed in 2016. SB 29 passed out of the Senate and was defeated in the House committee by one vote.

MASSACHUSETTS Senate Bill 442 (S.442) and House Bill 2938 (H.2938) are companion agricultural omnibus bills that include provisions which would officially legalize herdshare agreements and would allow the off-farm delivery of raw milk by licensed dairies. Under the bill, farmers with no more than twelve lactating cows, goats or combination of cows and goats can enter into herdshare agreements with those wanting to obtain raw milk. There must be a written contract that includes a statement that the raw milk is not pasteurized nor subject to inspection by the state Department of Health nor the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR). MDAR has power to issue rules on testing but cannot require testing more frequently than once every two months. The bills allow from a licensed raw milk farmer to deliver raw milk to a consumer with whom the farmer has a contractual relationship, including through the farmer’s agent and through a community supported agriculture (CSA) delivery system. The bill gives MDAR power to issue regulations governing delivery; the regulations must allow for non-mechanical refrigeration. The bills have passed out of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture and will likely next be assigned to the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

NEW JERSEY Assembly Bill 502 (A502) is the same bill that has been introduced the prior three legislative sessions, A502 allows for the on-farm sale of raw milk and raw milk products by a licensed dairy. Producers must comply with labeling, signage, herd health, and milk testing requirements. The bill also legalizes herdshare agreements and states that no permit is required for the distribution of milk through a herdshare contract. New Jersey is one of the remaining seven states that prohibits any raw milk distribution. A502 has been referred to the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

TENNESSEE House Bill 2229 (HB 2229) and Senate Bill 2104 (SB 2104) would have allowed the unregulated direct sale from producer to consumers of all foods except meat, on the farm, at farmers markets and other venues. There were labeling and signage requirements but no licensing or inspection under the bills. The bills were both defeated in committee; under current law, the distribution of raw milk and raw milk products is legal through herdshare agreements. Herdshare programs have been thriving in the state.

UTAH Senate Bill 108 (SB 108) has passed through both the Senate and House and are on the desk of Governor Gary Herbet. SB 108 allows the delivery and sale of raw milk through a mechanically refrigerated mobile unit by licensed dairies. Currently only the on-farm sale of raw milk by license holders is legal unless the producer has a majority ownership interest in a retail store (only one of the state’s ten licensed dairies meets this qualification). SB 108 also allows for the unlicensed on-farm sale of up to 120 gallons per month by unlicensed dairies if the producer is in compliance with labeling, recordkeeping, milk testing, and milk cooling requirements. Producers wanting to sell under this exemption must notify the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food (UDAF) that they are doing so. UDAF has power under the bill to order a producer to stop selling raw milk if the producer’s dairy is linked to a foodborne illness. The department has the power to levy administrative fines against producers who have been linked to a foodborne illness outbreak.

VIRGINIA Senate Bill 962 (SB 962) and House Bill 825 (HB 825) would have officially legalized and regulated herdshare operations. State policy in Virginia has long been to leave the many herdshare programs existing in the state alone. The original versions of both bills would have criminalized the refusal of either farmers or consumers to turn over copies of their contracts to government agencies. Both bills stated it was illegal for anyone besides the party to the contract to receive raw milk; in other words, giving raw milk to family or guests would have been a crime. Criminal penalties for violations of the bill’s requirements were up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine; every day the violation continued would be a separate offense. The bills also required that the herdshare contracts contain a clause that shareholders assumed joint liability if the herd or any milk produced by the heard was responsible for any injury or illness. SB 962 was in Senate committee and shortly afterwards was stricken in the House committee.

For further updates on the progress of raw milk legislation, go to the bill tracking page at realmilk.com.