Although local foods travel a short physical distance from farm to table, farmers travel a long road with obstacles: government laws and regulations made by and for the benefit of big corporate agribusinesses. Many of the barriers take the form of so-called food safety regulations, which are designed to fit the large industrial-scale operations that are the source of the majority of the foodborne illness outbreaks in this State and across the country. FARFA is working on scale-appropriate regulation that recognizes that one of the best ways to ensure food safety is to improve access to locally grown and produced foods, either sold directly by the producer to the consumer or with very short, transparent, and accountable supply chains.
After several months of hostile treatment by agents from the Texas Department of State Health Services, raw milk consumers and their farmers have something to celebrate. The Commissioner of Health and Human Services, which oversees DSHS, has pledged that the health department will NOT be taking any action against raw milk consumers or their couriers.
This is a major victory for all those who helped in this important grassroots effort! Thank you to everyone who spoke up!
Last summer, the Texas Department of State Health Services embarked on a new, extremely hostile approach, to regulating raw milk. FARFA has worked on a state-level bill to legalize the delivery of raw milk and sales at farmers’ markets (sales currently are legal only at the farm). Over the past several sessions, we have made steady progress toward passing the new bill.
In the meantime, however, consumers have worked together to reduce the burden imposed by the regulations; they have formed groups, and either a member of the group drives to the farm to pick up everyone’s milk, or they hire a courier to pick it up for them.…
As autumn sets in, state legislators turn their attention to the bills they will champion in the coming year. Thanks to our Texas members, FARFA is positioned to lobby the Texas Legislature extensively, and we have a full plate of bills planned for 2017.
We’ve made progress on gaining backing – and sponsors – on our proposals, so this is the latest on where each of those bills stand.
Although Texas law provides for “agricultural valuation” of land used primarily for raising food, many farmers across the state have experienced problems in qualifying for such valuation due to bias against sustainable farming methods, urban farms, and produce farmers. This has meant that small, sustainable farmers have often paid thousands of dollars in additional taxes – a significant burden for these small businesses that provide food for local communities.
Last session, FARFA supported a bill:
- To specify that mixed vegetable and fruit production qualifies as “agricultural use”;
- To direct tax appraisers to consider the type of production used, including organic and sustainable methods such as rotational grazing, in determining the degree of intensity of use necessary to qualify;
- To direct the Comptroller to develop guidelines to address under what conditions small tracts and diversified farms qualify for agricultural valuation. …
It’s been a busy summer for local food issues in Texas, between the ongoing developments in the state’s health department crackdown on raw milk, the state’s adoption of new federal food safety regulations, and laying the groundwork for a slate of bills for next year’s Legislative Session.
As we head into the fall, here’s a quick summary of where things stand:
As we’ve alerted you before, the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) worked with local health departments and law enforcement to disrupt private groups’ distribution of raw milk earlier this spring and summer. The courier for a Harris County-area group was issued a citation and had to appear in court on August 24. (Background available here.)
FARFA Executive Director Judith McGeary attended the Harris County hearing, during which the courier (who was cited for operating an unlicensed retail food establishment) was represented by a criminal attorney provided by the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund.…
As we alerted you earlier this summer, the Texas Department of State Health Services has undertaken a campaign of aggressive enforcement against raw milk farmers and their customers.
This situation poses many problems for local food producers and consumers – whether you drink raw milk or not:
- The use of law enforcement to intimidate consumers.
- Changing the enforcement of the law based on a change in agency personnel – even though nothing has changed in the regulations and no illnesses have occurred.
- Government harassment of producers based on complaints filed by competitors, not the public.
We’re already seeing the latter two cropping up with other types of local foods (although not as dramatically as with the raw milk busts).
This needs to stop. The health departments should be focusing on actual health risks, not using complaints from competitors as excuses to harass small local farmers and their customers.
FARFA’s been active in developing legal arguments, talking with agency officials and legislative staffers, consulting with the farmers, and more.…
During the Independence Day weekend, the Harris County Health Department pulled Sheriff’s deputies away from a domestic dispute in order to bust a raw milk drop point.
This raid targeted adults who were picking up raw milk, purchased from a licensed, inspected farm, using a courier that they hired. To the Health Department, this apparently is a greater public concern than addressing domestic violence.
The Health Department refused to allow people to take the milk for which they had already paid, and issued a citation to the courier, ordering her to appear in court next month.
Just as in the similar incident in Austin, the department’s claim was that the courier needed to have a food establishment license, as is required of restaurants, food stores, and food trucks, for example. But if this is really what the law means, then UPS, FedEx, UberEats and other restaurant delivery services, CSA drop points, and volunteers organizing bulk purchases of any food are all operating illegally.…
There are four core points. (Click on each point to jump to details.)
- Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance stands behind the raw milk farms and the customers who have set up legal group distribution points.
- The recent raid appears to be due to a combination of an industry complainant and “rogue” bureaucrats.
- If government agents visit your home, you have legal rights and can choose how to proceed.
- YOU can make a difference!
WE STAND BEHIND
RAW MILK PRODUCERS AND CONSUMERS
Texas allows the purchase of Grade A raw milk only when purchased directly from the farmer at the place of production. For years, raw milk customers have cooperated to pick up each other’s milk and save a lot of time and gas – benefiting us all by reducing vehicle miles, traffic, and air pollution from unnecessary driving.…
Health departments in Texas have stepped up their attacks on the public’s right to purchase food directly from farmers, resorting to bringing the police to harass and intimidate local raw milk customers.
That’s what happened to one group of raw milk customers in Austin recently. On May 26, they went to a private home to meet the courier that they had hired to pick up their milk, and were met by four inspectors from the City of Austin Health Department and Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS). An unmarked police car pulled into the driveway, blocking the raw milk van and a customer’s car – with her children in it – and two policemen emerged.
The inspectors proceeded to tell the customers that they could not take possession of the milk, ignoring protests that they had already paid for that milk. The inspectors also ignored the statement from the courier that he had a signed agreement with the customers making him their agent – and instead falsely wrote on the inspection report that the courier worked for the farmer.…
In the last Texas legislative session, legislators proposed a California-style scheme of massive water transfers around the state. FARFA played a key role in defeating the proposed bill, but the issue is far from dead. Legislators who see nothing wrong in using the power of the government to take water and land away from rural areas to promote unrestrained urban growth — at the expense of the children and grandchildren of both rural and urban areas — are already looking ahead to the 2017 legislative session.
On February 2, 2016, the House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing about water marketing. Click here for FARFA’s post-hearing press release.
Out of the dozen invited witnesses, not a single one represented agricultural interests.
FARFA’s executive director, Judith McGeary, submitted written testimony and testified briefly during the public testimony portion of the hearing.
During the hearing, Representative Lyle Larson (R-San Antonio) repeatedly claimed that the current system wasn’t working because some areas and landowners would not agree to sell their water for export. …
It’s time for the Texas Primary Elections! Early voting begins on February 16 and runs through February 26. Election Day is on March 1, 2016
FARFA endorses the following candidates based on their positions on food and agricultural issues, as well as closely related issues such as water rights and use. FARFA’s endorsement does not constitute an endorsement of the candidates’ positions on other issues.
As you will see, FARFA is only endorsing two candidates in the primaries (one Democrat and one Republican). Obviously, this is not a comprehensive list of good candidates! We decided to endorse in these two specific races because they are hotly contested and there is a candidate with a strong record on our issues. We want to also recognize some of the legislators who were local food champions last session.
FARFA endorses Huey Fischer in the Democratic Primary for House District 49, which was previously held by Representative Naishtat.…
Over 6,000 bills were filed in the 84th Texas Legislative Session, creating a massive challenge even to monitor which ones could impact family farmers and local food producers. Getting good bills passed meant fighting heavy odds; only about 1,300 bills actually passed and were signed by the Governor.
The local food movement achieved some important victories, both in passing good bills and in fighting bad ones, on issues ranging from community gardens to water. There were also several disappointments, and many challenges left to work on during the next year and a half in preparation for the next session. Each year, we build more strength to work for the changes we need.
Note: We have included the names, parties, and hometowns of all the legislators who sponsored these bills — both good and bad. If your Representative or Senator is listed, please take a moment to call or email their offices and thank them or express your disappointment, as appropriate. …