Texas Update: FARFA’s Current Work on Local Food Issues

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:

cows-on-pasture-enhancedRaw Milk

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.…

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Tell Texas Legislators to Hold Health Department Accountable

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.…

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Harassment of Raw Milk Customers Continues

 

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.…

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Raw Milk Situation Continues to Develop

Snapshot of Austin milk raidIn the wake of the raid on a raw milk drop point in Austin just before Memorial Day Weekend (pictured at right), we’ve received many questions about what happened – and what happens next.

There are four core points. (Click on each point to jump to details.)

  1. Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance stands behind the raw milk farms and the customers who have set up legal group distribution points.
  2. The recent raid appears to be due to a combination of an industry complainant and “rogue” bureaucrats.
  3. If government agents visit your home, you have legal rights and can choose how to proceed.
  4. 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.…

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DSHS statement on raw milk pick ups – 2013

Below is an email from the Texas Department of State Health Services in response to a raw milk customer’s inquiry about the legality of raw milk distribution in 2013.  We have highlighted specific statements.

 

—–Original Message—–

From: McCreary,Dan (DSHS)
Sent: Friday, November 22, 2013 11:06 AM
To: [name redacted]
Subject: RE: Raw milk “distribution”

 

Ms. _______ We received the following questions from you:

Question 1 (November 19, 10:58 am): “Why is it illegal for a co-op member (me) to pick up other co-op members orders when I travel to Grandview and pass them out to them after I return to Fort Worth?”

Question 2 (November 19, 3:35 pm): I purchase dairy products at one or more raw milk dairies. The dairies do not deliver to my address. On occasion a co-op member will bring my order, and possibly others up to this area. I do not purchase and distribute raw dairy.…

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Raw Milk Pickup Shut Down by State & City Agents

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.…

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Raw milk bill gets a Senate committee hearing!

 

The raw milk bill, HB 91, has been scheduled for a Senate Committee hearing on Monday morning!  Time is running out fast to get the bill passed by the Senate, so we need help one last time to get this important bill passed.

TAKE ACTION #1: Come to the hearing

Start your Memorial Day with a short trip to the Capitol.  If you can stay to watch the hearing, great.  But even if you can only come for a few minutes to register in support, that helps a lot!

COMMITTEE:    Intergovernmental RelationsCitizen Lobby Day 2013
TIME & DATE:  8:30 AM, Monday, May 25, 2015
PLACE:        E1.028

Enter the main Capitol building, take the elevators down to floor E1, and walk all the way down the main hallway until just past the second rotunda.  Room E1.028 is on your right.  Look for the stack of 1/2 page cards on a table ; if they’re out, ask the clerk. …

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Calls needed to support the raw milk bill!

 

May 25, 2015: The raw milk bill, HB 91, passed the Texas House with a strong bipartisan vote.  But time is running out for it to pass the Senate — if it is not voted on by Wednesday at midnight, it will die.

We need your help to keep HB 91 moving, so that Texans can buy raw milk at farmers’ markets and through home delivery!

TAKE ACTION #1

Call or email your State Senator to urge him or her to support HB 91.  You can find out who your State Senator is by going to www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us  or calling the Texas Capitol Switchboard at 512-463-4630.

The message is simple:

Hi, my name is ____, and I am a constituent.  I am calling to urge Senator ______ to support  HB 91, the raw milk bill.

Feel free to add a few sentences about why this issue is important to you, or borrow from the talking points at the end of the alert. 

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Good news for raw milk and small farmers from the Texas legislature!

 

May 11, 2015: Four good local food bills have passed the House of Representatives!  We have just a few weeks to get them through the Senate in order to become law:

  • HB 91, which would expand legal access to raw milk by allowing licensed farmers to sell at farmers’ markets and make delivery arrangements with consumers
  • HB 1900, which would provide fair property tax treatment for small farmers, vegetables farmers, and diversified farms
  • HB 262, which would limit liability for landowners who allow their property to be used for community gardens, increasing access to land
  • HB 1846, which would require transparency in the state’s implementation of new federal food safety regulations

At the same time, the massive water marketing bill that we oppose has also passed the House and is moving through the Senate, where we will continue to fight to stop it.

Thank you to everyone who has already taken action! 

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Raw milk bill scheduled for a vote by the Texas House of Representatives

FSMA Intentional Adulteration: Small Dairy Farms Not At Risk

The raw milk bill, HB 91, has been scheduled for a vote this Thursday, May 7!  This is the first time the Texas House of Representatives will debate the issue of raw milk.    This is going to be a tough fight, and we need everyone to speak up.  Even if you have called before, please take a minute to make a call now to support expanding legal access to raw milk in Texas!

TAKE ACTION

Call or email your State Representative to urge him or her to vote YES on HB 91

You can find out who your State Representative is by going to www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us  or calling the Texas Capitol Switchboard at 512-463-4630.

If you call after hours, you can simply leave a message: “Hi, my name is ____, and I am a constituent.  I am calling to urge Representative ______ to vote YES on HB 91, the raw milk bill, when it comes to the floor this Thursday.”

MORE INFORMATION ABOUT HB 91, Raw Milk

Download our fact sheet here

HB 91 by Representative Dan Flynn would legalize the sale of raw milk by licensed farmers directly to consumers at farmers markets, and allow farmers and consumers to agree to delivery arrangements.…

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