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Fresh & Local: Wyoming’s Food Freedom Act: Rep. Tyler Lindholm on Unleashing Local Artisan Foods

Wyoming – not California, or the west coast or even New England, but Wyoming – has now jumped into the lead as the national hotbed for local artisan foods.

As I wrote in last week’s column, earlier this month, Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead signed into law the “Wyoming Food Freedom Act.” Under this first-in-the-nation law, direct-to-consumer food sales by farmers and other food producers cannot be subjected to any “licensure, permitting, certification, inspection, packaging, or labeling” requirements by state agencies.

Rep. Tyler Lindholm

Rep. Tyler Lindholm

The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Tyler Lindholm (R-District 1), calls it, “a measure designed to stop overregulation of locally produced foods.” He points out that the new law takes “local foods off the black market. It will no longer be illegal to buy a lemon meringue pie from your neighbor or a jar of milk from your local farm.”

This is a revolutionary law, and it is big news to local-market farms – and their local economies – nationwide. I had questions, and I managed to catch up with Rep. Lindholm this week and ask him about Wyoming’s new law.

As history, Rep. Lindholm explained, “When it comes to Food Freedom, Wyoming has been in this battle since 2008 -2009. The bill was run by the late Rep. Sue Wallis, and she passed away last year. It was one of those bills that I followed and watched. I was elected last fall, and one of my campaign promises was that I would run this bill.”

In last week’s column, I wrote about Joel Salatin and his book on food regulation, Everything I Want to Do is Illegal. As we talked about Joel, Tyler became Joel Saltinanimated, saying, “The whole artisan foods – and local produced – is something I have been very passionate about for a long time. And, obviously, Joel Salatin is right at the peak of this movement, and someone I have followed for a long time. Heck, I’ve got chicken tractors (Joel’s design for highly movable broiler pens) on my ranch, now – on my cattle ranch. They work great. The grass that has come back has been phenomenal, so it works out here in Wyoming, too.”

I asked what he thinks is the most compelling argument for Food Freedom, and Rep. Lindholm replied, “Individual liberty is important, but like me, if you come from a ranch, you have to diversify. It seems so simple, but [value-added artisan foods] used to be the primary way farmers and ranchers subsidized their income. Now farmers and ranchers subsidize their income with off-farm jobs. I come from a family ranch, and the ranch will not support multiple families. That’s my story.” Rep. Lindholm also works as an electrician for an electric coop.

“Rather than subsidizing by working off-farm, I would rather see farmers subsidize by selling eggs, milk, and farm-made products. This is more in keeping with the ideals that founded Wyoming, and it was a no-brainer to take that message to Wyoming, and we were successful.”

The Wyoming Food Freedom Act does not apply to the sale of beef or pork. Wyoming has a two-tiered meat inspection system. Beef and pork for sale in Wyoming can be processed in a state-inspected facility, while beef and pork for sale outside of Wyoming must be processed in a USDA-inspected facility.

The USDA threatened Wyoming that if they ever passed a law that allowed for the sale of uninspected beef or pork, the USDA would shut down the state-inspected facilities and force all beef and pork to be processed in a USDA-inspected facility.

“I was contacted by the state inspection association,” recalls Rep. Lindholm, “and they were getting ready to mount up their troops to come against the bill. It took me about 30 seconds to draft an amendment, and we took care of that situation right then and there. These bills that are so far reaching, sometimes you have to baby-step them. That’s not to say that we are not going to go after red meat [inspection]. This is going to be a year-after-year process until we do get to the point where every product can be sold on a free-market basis. But you can’t go against the state inspection force.”

“But we have raw milk now in the State of Wyoming. That is a whole new business platform that people can use.”

IM000385I asked if the bill was opposed by the state food inspectors. “The state epidemiologist and the Department of Agriculture mounted up. Absolutely. But I have a lot of faith in small business self-regulation. If I ever make someone sick, I’m going to be out of business in a day. This is the beauty of the face-to-face sale provision. The point of the bill is to make it easy to start-up a small business. This is something that you just have to hammer home with folks: this is small business self-regulation.”

When the producer and customer know each other and meet face-to-face, the producer has a great incentive to provide a wholesome product without any additional oversight. It is when the producer and customer never meet that the incentive arises to cut corners.

The bill passed 60-0 in the full House of Representatives, but barely survived a 3-2 vote in the Senate Agriculture Committee. The Chairman of that committee promised Rep. Lindholm last October that he would kill this bill, but it survived with the help of the bill’s Senate co-sponsor Ogden Driskill.

The debate in the Senate was heated. Some Senators and both Wyoming’s major newspapers denounced the bill saying that the raw milk provision was going to kill children.

Rep. Lindholm explains that according to the Center for Disease Control statistics, cookie dough is far more deadly than raw milk. “It is so ridiculous. In the last 13 years, two people have died from raw milk in all of the U.S. In just one year, 2011, 34 people died from raw cookie dough. So what about cookie dough?”

The bill ended up passing in the full Senate 20-8 with two abstentions.

Joel Salatin believes that many of the highly processed foods currently sold at supermarkets could be supplanted with community-based, locally sourced, entrepreneurial fare. What blocks much of this from happening are food regulations. He writes, “Eye hath not seen nor ear heard . . . what could be if local food entrepreneurs were freed up to access their neighborhoods with homemade, artisanal food.”

Wyoming is all set to experience that.

 

Bryant Osborn - Fresh and Local

Bryant Osborn – Fresh and Local

 

Bryant Osborn and his wife Terry own Corvallis Farms in Culpeper County. Bryant’s Fresh & Local columns on local-market agriculture now appear regularly here at Virginia Right! He can be reached at bryant@corvallisfarms.com

About Tom White

Tom is a US Navy Veteran, owns an Insurance Agency and is currently an IT Manager for a Virginia Distributor. He has been published in American Thinker, currently writes for the Richmond Examiner as well as Virginia Right! Blog.Tom lives in Hanover County, Va and is involved in politics at every level and is a Recovering Republican who has finally had enough of the War on Conservatives in progress with the Leadership of the GOP on a National Level.

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