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Bill seeks liberation for raw dairy and eggs

By Madelyn Beck,

CHEYENNE—Eight years after passing the Wyoming Food Freedom Act, state lawmakers are still making adjustments to ease sales of home-made goods, raw milk and eggs around the state.

Senate File 102 – Food Freedom Act-Amendments — clarifies that eggs and dairy products belong among the homemade goods citizens can sell from their home, ranch, farmers market or other location where consumers know they’re buying an uninspected good.

Wyoming inspectors had been interpreting the law in different ways, and this bill meant to clear that up, Tyler Lindholm said. He first sponsored the act as a legislator in 2015, and now speaks on its behalf through a new organization.

“Americans for Prosperity is very much in favor of these type of economic empowerments: getting government out of people’s way so that they can practice at home their trade,” he said.

The bill has received broad support from lawmakers, as well as those already selling these products.

“As the Food Freedom Act mentions, the intention is to encourage the expansion of agricultural sales by facilitation of the purchase and consumption of fresh and local ag products, enhancing the ag economy and providing Wyoming citizens with unimpeded access to healthy food,” Christine Hampshire testified at a committee hearing on Feb. 14. “So thank you for your efforts and continuing that.”

Hampshire runs the Cross E Dairy and Freedom Foods Market in Sheridan, which she says includes about 40 producers selling various goods. Raw milk is the big draw, she said, but the overall market generated $300,000 last year.

Senate File 102 also defines a “designated agent,” which someone could hire to sell, market, transport, store or deliver their homemade and home-produced products.

The bill might not get as much attention as other hot-button topics lawmakers are looking at this year, Lindholm said, but it has wide-reaching implications.

“Certainly there’s sexier pieces of legislation out there that really ultimately aren’t going to amount to a big enough change that this will amount to. This is going to affect every person in the state of Wyoming,” he said.

Sen. Tim Salazar (R-Riverton) sponsored the clarifying legislation. He said the act “simply adds to the freedom of our local producers to sell to the public.”

There was no significant pushback to the bill in Senate or House committee hearings aside from requests to clarify some of the language and a critique that it doesn’t help struggling sheep producers. Meat is more heavily regulated by the federal government.

Senate File 102 passed out of the Senate as well as the House Agriculture, State and Public Lands & Water Resources Committee with near-unanimous support. It now heads to the House floor.

Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found infections and hospitalizations from raw milk consumption increased between 2007 and 2012, and more than 80% of those outbreaks happened in states that have legalized selling the product. There were zero associated deaths, but nearly 60% of outbreaks involved a child under the age of 5.

There have been some complaints of foodborne illness from products the Food Freedom Act made legal to sell, according to Consumer Health Services’ Justin Latham. However, he said in committee there have been no confirmed outbreaks in Wyoming.

“Most of the foodborne outbreaks in the nation go unreported,” he said. “And people just assume that it’s a flu or a different type of illness.”

Lindholm doesn’t know what other states are doing with raw milk sales, he said, but “Wyoming has been a success.”

The Food Freedom Act mandates that any products sold in stores must be set apart from inspected foods and labeled with “this food was made in a home kitchen, is not regulated or inspected and may contain allergens.”

The most common infections reported from drinking raw milk are Campylobacter, E. coli and Salmonella.

Pasteurized milk has been heated and pressurized to make it more shelf-stable and kill any bacteria, molds or yeasts.

That process became popular after bacteria-infected cattle passed diseases onto people. Tuberculosis in particular spread through milk to humans, and at least in England and Wales, killed about 65,000 people in the early 1900s.

Thus far, peer-reviewed studies haven’t found significant nutritional benefits from drinking raw milk over pasteurized milk, though there has been an association with reductions in asthma and allergies for infants who drink it before they’re a year old.

Generally, medical providers report suspected foodborne illness outbreaks to state health officials who can inspect possible culprits.

In the U.S., the largest share of foodborne illnesses don’t come from dairy or homemade goods, though. The most deaths from foodborne infections come from meat and poultry, while the largest amount of confirmed illness comes from leafy greens like packaged salads, according to the CDC.

“I would recommend you stop eating leafy greens for the time being just until it becomes safe again,” Lindholm joked, inducing chuckles from lawmakers.

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