[Big Sky Public Policy Institute] One of the better bills to go through the Montana Legislature this session is Senate Bill 199, sponsored by Senator Greg Hertz. The bill will help secure Montana’s food supply, assist farmers and ranchers, and help the public obtain access to healthy, locally-sourced food.
Please make no mistake about it; America’s food security is at risk. And Montana, even with a great abundance in land, cattle, and crops like wheat and sugar beets, is still not an exception to this rule. Without the intentional and proactive loosening of unnecessary food-supply restrictions, Montana is not poised well to thrive in a potential supply chain disruption.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture states on its website that although there are currently no food chain supply problems, “in some cases the inventory of certain foods at your grocery store might be temporarily low before stores can restock.”
During the COVID-19 crisis last year, back when many were still convinced that the novel coronavirus was anything but a paper tiger, grave food shortages were predicted by almost every aspect of the American agricultural community. Meat-packing plants, in particular, were shuttered in an over-reaction to the inflated statistics on COVID-19 danger by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Food and Water Watch, a non-profit that keeps a close eye on our food supply, pointed out that not only were meat producers sounding the alarm on possible food shortages, but they were still sending more than 129 thousand tons of pork to China, along with thousands of tons of poultry and even beef to Asia and other consumer nations around the world. Therefore, it would seem, America’s potential food supply crisis would not only be caused by a disruption in getting American meat to market, but the problem of sending our American meat overseas rather than feeding Americans down the street.
Unfortunately, America’s agricultural infrastructure is unhealthily oriented toward mass production for the purpose of transport and sale not only in America but around the world. This limits the access of Americans to food that is locally sourced and generally considered to be healthier and sustainable.
Sen. Hertz’s bill attempts to find some solutions to Montana’s food supply difficulties in the event we fall on even harder times.
The bill is lenghty, with 33 sections, most likely because great care had to be taken by Hertz to avoid bucking current laws and regulations relating to food production at the state and especially federal level. But don’t let the length fool you; the central thrust of SB199 is simple enough.
The bill’s purpose is to, “…allow for the sale and consumption of homemade food and food products and to encourage the expansion of agricultural sales by ranches, farms, and home-based producers and the accessibility of homemade food and food products to informed end consumers.”
This is welcome news for Montana’s agricultural producers.
The bill’s purposes is fulfilled by…
(a) facilitating the purchase and consumption of fresh and local agricultural products;
(b) enhancing the agricultural economy; and
(c) providing Montana citizens with unimpeded access to healthy food from known sources.
Regulatory changes that will help actualize these objectives include loosening license requirements including…
(a) food must be sold directly from the producer to the consumer, sometimes known as “farm to table”
(b) food must be only for home consumption or consumption at a traditional community social event (IE church potluck). An exception is made for milk, which cannot be sold or provided in raw form*
(c) food sold in this fashion must occur only inside Montana
Requirements include a producer informing the consumer that any homemade food or homemade food product sold through ranch, farm, or home-based sales has not been licensed, permitted, certified, packaged, labeled, or inspected per any official regulations.
Additionally, with the exception of raw, unprocessed fruit and vegetables, homemade food shall not be sold or used in a retail food establishment unless the food has been licensed, permitted, certified, packaged, labeled, and inspected as required by law.
Over-all, this will help Montana’s ag producers because farm-to-table sales usually far exceed the profit of that which is sold to wholesale markets. In addition, it will help Montanans source their food from local producers, which only helps to secure our local food suppy.
* This provision could use an amendment, and milk should be allowed to be sold or distributed without pasteurization to Montanans who are aware of the potential risk
[Editor’s Note: This article was first published at the Big Sky Public Policy Institute]