Action Alert (Texas): Cottage foods bill goes to a vote, but other bills still need help

 

The cottage foods bill is scheduled for a vote! We need calls to support it – and emails to get the other bills moving.

Your phone calls and emails to Calendars Committee succeeded in getting HB 970, the cottage foods bill, scheduled for a House vote on Saturday, May 4!

The cottage foods bill, HB 970, would allow people to make low-risk foods at home and sell them to consumers at their homes, farm stands, farmers markets, and community events. Cottage food producers would not be regulated by the health departments, although they would have to get a food handlers’ license (which you can get through a 2-hour online course).

Please call your Representative today to urge him/her to vote YES on HB 970, the cottage foods bill!

While this is excellent news, our other six local foods bills are still stuck in Calendars. The last day for the House to vote on House bills is next Thursday. Even though these bills were approved by the Public Health and Agriculture Committees, they could die without ever being voted on.

We need your help: please email all the members of the Calendars Committee ASAP and urge them to schedule our local food bills for a vote by the House. Time is running out!

These common-sense bills help farmers and local food producers raise and bring their products to market, which means better access to high-quality local foods for consumers. The bills also promote small businesses, helping our local economies. The Texas Legislature needs to take action!

 

TAKE ACTION

 

farfa-take-actionAction Item #1:

Call your State Representative to vote “yes” on HB 970, the cottage foods bill, at the House hearing on Saturday, May 4.

Please also urge him/her to co-author the six other local foods bills (HB 46, 910, 1306, 1382, 1392, and 1393) and to urge the Calendars Committee to schedule them as soon as possible for a House vote. See the end of this alert for descriptions of each of the bills.

You can find out who represents you at www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us
or by calling the Capitol Switchboard at 512-463-4630. The Switchboard can connect you to their offices, and it takes just a couple of minutes.
 

Action Item #2:

Email all the members of the Calendars Committee, listed below. You can send an email follow-up even if you have already called.

  • Subject of your email should be: “Please schedule HB 46, 910, 1306, 1382, 1392, and 1393 today”
  • Text of the email does not have to be long (you may add a couple of sentences to personalize it): “Please schedule the raw milk and local foods bills – HB 46, HB 910, HB 1306, HB 1382, HB 1392, HB 1393 – for a House vote. These common-sense bills address the needs of the local foods movement, where local farmers and food producers sell their products directly to consumers who are increasingly seeking out such foods. Helping the local food movement helps small local businesses and our economy.”

 

Action Item #3:

If you haven’t already done so, please email your State Senator to oppose the animal ID bill. Contact info with instructions and a sample email message are here: www.farmandranchfreedom.org/alert-tx-animal-id-4-28-2013

 

CALENDARS COMMITTEE

 
Chair, Todd Hunter (R) – todd.hunter@house.state.tx.us
Vice Chair, Eddie Lucio (D) – eddie.lucio_iii@house.state.tx.us
Roberto Alonzo (D) – roberto.alonzo@house.state.tx.us
Carol Alvarado (D) – carol.alvarado@house.state.tx.us
Dan Branch (R) – dan.branch@house.state.tx.us
Angie Chen Button (R) – angie.button@house.state.tx.us
Byron Cook (R) – byron.cook@house.state.tx.us
Myra Crownover (R) – myra.crownover@house.state.tx.us
Sarah Davis (R) – sarah.davis@house.state.tx.us
Craig Eiland (R) – craig.eiland@house.state.tx.us
John Frullo (R) – john.frullo@house.state.tx.us
Charlie Geren (R) – charlie.geren@house.state.tx.us
Helen Giddings (D) – helen.giddings@house.state.tx.us
John Kuempel (R) – john.kuempel@house.state.tx.us
Doug Miller (R) – doug.miller@house.state.tx.us

 

2013 LOCAL FOOD BILLS

 
Grade A Farm Fresh Raw Milk

HB 46 – Improving access to raw milk: Texans can legally buy unpasteurized milk from cows and goats that are raised on pasture-based farms. But consumers’ choices are limited by regulations that limit sales to taking place on-farm and require individuals to drive out to the farm, which may be up to 2 or 3 hours away. This regulation burdens consumers and penalizes family farmers. The bill would allow licensed farmers to sell raw milk directly to consumers at farmers markets and consumers’ residences. This bill would continue the direct farmer-to-consumer relationship while ensuring that raw milk is both safe and accessible to rural and urban customers.

 

HB 970 – Encouraging home-based food production, aka “cottage foods”: Until last year, anyone making and selling any food at all (other than uncut fruits and vegetables) had to do so in a commercial, licensed facility that was subject to regulations designed for large-scale industrial food production. Last session, the Texas Legislature provided that “cottage food producers” could make specific low-risk foods in their homes and sell directly to consumers, up to $50,000 per year, without being regulated by the state and local health departments.

The bill has led to the establishment and growth of numerous small businesses in this state, with no reports of resulting foodborne illness. HB 970 would expand the law to include other foods designated as non-potentially hazardous by the FDA. The bill would also remove the restriction that the sale has to occur at the person’s home, allowing the seller and buyer to connect at farmers markets, farm stands, and nonprofit community events.

 

HB 910 – Limiting fees for farmers selling directly to consumers: Many local health departments require farmers and other food producers selling directly to consumers to apply for permits to do so. The fees associated with such permits have created a financial burden on many producers who are small businesses with low profit margins. These high fees discourage farmers from participating in farmers’ markets, particularly smaller markets in less affluent areas. The bill proposes to cap health department fees at $50 per jurisdiction, making it feasible for small farmers and local food producers to provide food to local consumers without unnecessarily adding costs.

 

HB 1306 – Establishing fair property tax treatment for urban farms, community gardens, and sustainable farmers: Current state law provides that land shall be appraised as qualified agricultural land if it is primarily used for agricultural use. But urban farms, vegetable farms, and community gardens have often been denied agricultural valuation, even when the primary purpose of the property is raising food for the community. This bill seeks to clarify the statute so that such farms and community gardens qualify for the agricultural valuation that they are entitled to.

 

farmers-market-samplingHB 1382 – Making it easier to provide samples at farmers markets and farm stands: Letting potential customers sample food is a great way to increase sales and encourage people to try unusual fruits and vegetables. But current regulations that govern food samplings are based on the conditions in brick-and-mortar facilities and pose unnecessary challenges for farmers and food producers at local farmers’ markets. The Health & Safety Code provides standards for sampling produce at municipally owned farmers markets, and there have been no reports of problems resulting from such an approach. This bill simplifies the current provision in the Health & Safety Code and expands it to all farmers’ markets and farm stands.

 

➢ HB 1392 – Directing the DSHS to respond to inquiries about the law and its application to specific factual situations: Farmers and small-scale food producers have faced serious problems because of the inability to determine what is actually required under the regulations. When asked, the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) provides little guidance, leaving the producers to decide whether to invest anywhere from several hundred to tens of thousands of dollars and potentially still face fines depending on the department’s discretion.

 

HB 1393 – Removing barriers to on-farm and in-home food production: Current regulations require that farmers and other food producers have a separate building from their residence in order to get any kind of a license. For small farmers and small-scale food producers, this means a choice between spending thousands of dollars building an entirely separate building or having to rent space – at significant expense and inconvenience – at a commercial facility. This bill would remove the requirement, allowing people the choice to license facilities within their own homes if they meet the applicable sanitary requirements.