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Important Legislative Information!

I wanted to pass this along from the Organic Consumer’s Association today…for those of you in Texas…let’s hear from you!

-Patrick Krupka, DC

Please call to support the latest local foods bill (SB 81) in Texas!

The local foods bills (HB 2084 and HB 3387) died in the legislative process, but important portions of these bills have now been amended onto a general food safety bill, SB 81.

The amended version of SB 81 will now go back to the Senate.  The Senators can either concur in the
amendments or the bill will have to go to conference committee where the differences in the two versions will be negotiated.

We need your help to keep these important amendments in SB 81!  Time is very short.  The final
version of the bill must be adopted by both chambers by Sunday night.  The legislators are working late at night and through the whole weekend, so you can call at any time of the day.  Please call as soon as you can.

TAKE
ACTION:

1)     Call Senator Nelson, Chair of Health and Human Services Committee, at 512-463-0360.  She is the author of SB 81, and her support is critical.

Message: My name is _____.  I urge Chairwoman Nelson to concur in the House Amendments to SB 81, specifically the cottage foods and farmers market provisions.

2)     Call your own Senator.  If you are not sure who represents you, you can call the Capitol Switchboard at 512-463-4630 and ask to be connected, or look up your Senator online at http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/

Message: My name is _____.  I am a constituent, and I urge Senator ______ to concur in the House Amendments to SB
81, specifically the cottage foods and farmers market provisions.

3)    Call Lieutenant Governor Dewhurst at 512-463-0001 and urge him to support the cottage foods and farmers market amendment to SB 81.

Many thanks to
Chairwoman Kolkhorst and Representative Rodriguez for introducing the original bills and for sponsoring these amendments.

MORE INFORMATION

You
can read the amendments at http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/BillLookup/Amendments.aspx?LegSess=82R&Bill=SB81

The
original version of SB 81, as authored by Senator Nelson, did one thing: it
required wholesalers who package, wash, or ship fruit or vegetables to obtain a
license.  The bill continues to exempt farmers selling their own produce from
the farm from licensing. The bill was introduced because of the many foodborne
illness outbreaks that have occurred due to problems in the handling chain in
the mainstream food system.

Representative Kolkhorst sponsored the bill
in the House, and the House Public Health Committee adopted two changes to the
original bill: (1) creating a voluntary food safety best practice education
program, and providing that wholesale produce businesses who take that program
may be inspected less often (thereby prioritizing education over inspections in
preventing foodborne illness); and (2) requiring that when the State Health
Department adopts a federal rule, the Department publish notice of the rule on
its website with a clear explanation.

On the House floor, two more
changes were made.  Representative Kolkhorst added a cottage foods provision
from HB 2084, and Representative Rodriguez added two of the farmers market
provisions from HB 3387.

Cottage Foods Amendment

Under current
law, anyone who prepares any food for sale must have a commercial kitchen
license.  The cost of a commercial kitchen can be prohibitive for start-up
businesses and small-scale producers.

The Kolkhost Amendment allows
small-scale producers to sell specific low-risk foods directly to consumers
without the expense and burdens of the current regulations.  The listed foods
are baked goods, jams, jellies, and dried herbs, all of which are recognized as
non-hazardous by FDA.  Individuals selling less than $50,000 of these foods
directly to consumers either from their own home or at a farmers market would be
exempt from regulation.  The only requirement is a label with the producer’s
contact information and the statement that the food is not inspected by state or
local health authorities.

At least eighteen other states have similar
“cottage foods” laws already on the books.  This amendment benefits local
economies and small businesses by removing unnecessary regulatory burdens and
promoting local food production. It recognizes that food produced by individuals
on a small scale is different from food produced by the industrialized system in
which the major food safety problems have occurred.  Direct-to-consumer
transactions provide greater transparency and accountability than could ever be
achieved by government regulations.

Farmers Market Amendment

The
Rodriguez Amendment helps farmers market vendors on two issues:

1.
Provides clarity to Temporary Food Establishment permits:  There has been a lot
of confusion as to whether a local government can issue a temporary food
establishment permit to vendors at farmers markets, because of state regulations
that limit such permits to special events that last no longer than 14 days.
Some local governments have limited the permits to 14 days out of the whole
year, some have limited such permits to 14 days and allowed renewals, while
others have denied farmers market vendors such permits entirely.  This has
created significant barriers for farmers and food vendors.

This amendment
allows farmers and food vendors at farmers markets to obtain temporary food
establishment permits for up to one year, without limiting permits based on the
number of days during which the farmers market takes place.  It recognizes that
farmers markets are special events regardless of the number of days that they
occur on, while providing the flexibility for local governments to decide the
best option for their jurisdiction.

2.  Prevents mandatory mechanical
refrigeration or electric heating requirements:  Another problem for farmers at
farmers markets has been mandatory mechanical refrigeration or heating,
requiring farmers to obtain expensive equipment that is not needed to maintain
safe temperatures.  The amendment allows the Department of State Health Services
and local health authorities to establish safe temperature requirements while
barring them from mandating how a farmer or food vendor would maintain the
temperature. Therefore, food vendors will still have to meet temperature
requirements, but without having to get costly equipment.

The only
exception would be when a municipality owns the farmer’s market.  In those
cases, the municipality may specify the method to comply with food temperatures.

The Rodriguez Amendment does not apply to farmers markets in a county
that has a population of less than 50,000 people and over which no local health
department has jurisdiction.

Please help our local farmers and food
producers by calling your Senator today and urging him or her to vote to adopt
the House amendments to SB 81!

For more information, go to OCA’s Texas
State page: http://www.organicconsumers.org/state/TX.cfm or visit the Farm
and Ranch Freedom Alliance at www.FarmAndRanchFreedom.org

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One thought on “Important Legislative Information!

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