Action Alert (Texas): Speak Up for Farmers Markets

The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) is busy making things more difficult for local food producers.

As we alerted you last week, DSHS has proposed labeling rules that would significantly and unfairly burden cottage food producers. And DSHS hasn’t stopped there — it has also proposed new regulations on farmers’ markets.

In SB 81, the Texas Legislature included a provision to make it easier for individual vendors at farmers’ market to obtain a temporary permit to prepare food on-site if they wanted to, so that they could cook hot food or prepare samples. The bill also protected farmers’ market vendors from state or local authorities dictating how they maintain safe temperatures for their foods.

But instead of implementing these improvements, the DSHS has proposed a regulation that will make things harder for many farmers’ markets. The agency has proposed a rule that would classify farmers’ markets as “food establishments,” in the same category as restaurants and grocery stores. This change will place new burdens on farmers’ market organizers, and it might create new problems for every vendor at the markets, although the full consequences are unclear. The agency has also added “cut tomatoes” and “cut leafy greens” to the list of “potentially hazardous foods.” The agency has failed to provide any explanation of the consequences of these changes for our farmers and market organizers.

The agency is acting on its own in proposing this rule — the Legislature did not direct the agency to take this action.

Please help us protect our farmers’ markets! Submit your comments to the agency, telling it to withdraw the proposed farmers’ market rule, and urge your legislators to speak up too.

 

Take Action #1

Submit your comments to the agency by mail or email.

MAIL: Ruth Hendy, Food Establishments Group, Environmental & Consumer Safety Section, Division of Regulatory Services, Department of State Health Services, Mail Code 1987, P. O. Box 149347, Austin, Texas 78714-9347

EMAIL: ruth.hendy@dshs.state.tx.us

DEADLINE: Comments must be received by February 26, 2012

SAMPLE LETTER:

Remember to personalize your letter for the greatest impact! This sample letter is just to give you talking points and some help in writing your own letter. Your letter can be just a few sentences long, and it will still help make a difference.

Dear Ms. Hendy:

I urge the agency to withdraw the proposed rule for farmers’ markets and remove the references to farmers markets in the cottage food rule.

Classifying farmers markets as food establishments is a novel step that will burden many farmers’ markets with a new layer of permitting, regulation, and fees.

In addition, the agency has not explained the reasons for its addition of cut leafy greens and cut tomatoes to the list of potentially hazardous food items, nor what impact this change will have on the many small farmers and farmers markets who handle these items. These items should not be added without a thorough analysis of their implications.

Thank you for your time and attention.
Name

TAKE ACTION #2

After you submit comments to the agency, call your State Representative and Senator, and urge them to send a letter to DSHS urging the agency to withdraw both the proposed cottage foods rule and the proposed farmers’ market rule.

If you’re not sure who represents you, you can find out by calling the Capitol Switchboard at 512-463-4630 or by going to www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us

Instead of implementing the language and clear intent of SB 81, DSHS has decided to set its own priorities. It’s time for the Legislators to rein in this agency!

Representative Lois Kolkhorst, Representative Eddie Rodriguez, and Senator Jane Nelson have already taken this step on the proposed cottage food rule. These three legislators stood up for local foods during the legislative session and are continuing to do so – we owe them a thank you!

MORE INFORMATION

Read the full proposed rule at
www.sos.state.tx.us/texreg/archive/January272012/PROPOSED/25.HEALTH%20SERVICES.html#166

Read SB 81 at www.capitol.state.tx.us/tlodocs/82R/billtext/pdf/SB00081F.pdf#navpanes=0
(the cottage food provision begins on page 3; the farmers market provisions begin on page 5 of the bill)