Food freedom in 2015: the good news and bad news about culinary choice in America

 GOOD NEWS

The Texas House passed a bill to liberalize the rules governing the sale of raw milk. The legislation would allow door-to-door and farmers market sales, as well as the direct-from-farm sales that were already permitted. The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Dan Flynn (R-Canton), explained that “it all comes down to free enterprise. These farmers deserve to make a living off selling their product.” Last year, bills expanding consumer access to raw milk were introduced in 25 states and the District of Columbia; California also passed a law loosening regulations on goats’ milk.

BAD NEWS

In April, Democratic West Virginia Gov. Earl Tomblin unexpectedly vetoed a bill that would have allowed herd sharing–in which raw milk drinkers become part owners of a cow housed at a dairy. Just a day before the veto, the West Virginia Alliance for Raw Milk had posted on its Facebook page that the bill’s progress was “Exciting!!! There’s a light at the end of the tunnel!” After, the group followed up with this sad note: “Apparently the light at the end of the tunnel turned out to be a train that just smacked into us.” Montana raw milk activists killed their own proposal this year after amendments imposed too many requirements on small producers.

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GOOD NEWS

In May, Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a bill legalizing the sale of beer in 64-ounce jugs called growlers. The law goes into effect July 1. “We are pleased to continue to create a world class business environment where all businesses, including breweries, can succeed,” said the Republican governor. The same week, West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed into law a bill permitting restaurants and bars to sell growlers as well as reducing licensing fees and removing other restrictions on the craft beer industry. Starting in June, Georgia breweries will be allowed to sell beer on site and charge for tours. Arizona, North Dakota, and Wyoming all recently lifted caps on craft beer production.

BAD NEWS

In North Carolina, a bill to lift the cap on how many barrels of beer brewers can produce before they are forced into the wholesale distributors cartel was defeated. A Connecticut bill to allow small brewers to sell kegs directly to consumers was shot down as well. In Montana, a bill to lift volume limits on craft brewers lost narrowly.

GOOD NEWS

Oregon and Colorado rejected referenda last year that would have required food retailers to label products containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). On the federal level, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015, which would prohibit federal enforcement of requirements to label foods containing GMOs and instead create a standard for voluntary GMO-free labels, is gaining traction.

BAD NEWS

Last year, Vermont became the first state to pass a labeling requirement. The law is supposed to go into effect on July I, 2016, but implementation is currently tied up in the courts. In 2013, Maine passed a law that would require labeling only if surrounding states hopped on the GMO labeling bandwagon, but a bill has been introduced this session that would allow Maine to go it alone.

GOOD NEWS

Wyoming’s Republican governor, Matt Mead, signed a comprehensive “Food Freedom Act” in March, which state Rep. Tyler Lindholm (R-District l) described as taking “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.” Last year, legislation liberalizing the rules for people who make food in their home kitchens and sell directly to consumers (or at certain limited venues) was introduced in II states. Eight of the bills passed, including a law in Alabama allowing people to sell baked goods and candies after minimal training in food handling, and one in Georgia that released charities from onerous “safety” requirements.

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BAD NEWS

After grappling with a half-dozen cottage food bills, Hawaii passed just one: a bill promising only to study the issue further.

GOOD NEWS

Flamin’ Hot Cheetos are once again permitted in schools from Michigan to Illinois to California. While most of these institutions had simply removed the cheesy snack from on-campus vending machines, Jackson Elementary School in Pasadena, California, took things a step further and barred kids from bringing the food from home. “We don’t allow candy, and we don’t allow Hot Cheetos,” principal Rita Exposito told the Chicago Tribune in 2012. “We don’t encourage other chips, but if we see Hot Cheetos, we confiscate them–sometimes after the child has already eaten most of them. It’s mostly about the lack of nutrition.”

BAD NEWS

The snacks are back only after being reformulated to meet the federal government’s “smart snack” guidelines. In order to comply with those rules, Frito-Lay reduced the serving size and increased the amount of whole grains used.

GOOD NEWS

In January, a federal judge lifted California’s ban on the sale of the gourmet fatty duck and goose livers. The ban was passed by voters in 2004 and implemented in 2012. While the ban was in effect, some restaurants, such as Hot’s Kitchen in Hermosa Beach, dodged it by simply giving away foie gras–an act that was not illegal. A ban by the Chicago City Council followed a similar trajectory from 2006 to 2008.

BAD NEWS

It remains illegal to produce foie gras in the Golden State.

Sources: Food Safety News, Brewers Association, National Conference of State Legislatures, Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund

By Jason Keisling & Katherine Mangu-Ward

Keisling, Jason^Mangu-Ward, Katherine

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