Cottage foods bill filed — and more!

Three more local food bills have been filed this week, including the bill to expand the cottage food law! And earlier-filed bills are being assigned to committees, which means that the process is really starting to move.

While most people focus on when a bill is being voted on, a lot of the real work happens before then —  getting a committee hearing, getting approval from the committee, and making it onto the calendar for a vote. Your calls make a difference at each step of that process.

Information on the most recently filed bills is below. Let your representatives know how these bills affect you as a farmer or consumer, either because these bills make it easier for your farm or food business, or because they improve your access to the foods you want. You can get additional background info for all 11 of our proposed bills on our website, including fact sheets on the bills that have been filed.


Expanding the Cottage Food Law (HB 2108)

The current cottage food law, adopted in 2011 and 2013, allows people to make low-risk foods in their home kitchens and sell them directly to consumers at specific locations (farmers markets, farm stands, and city, county, or nonprofit events). Since its introduction, the cottage food law resulted in creation of over 1,000 new businesses. Expanding the law will provide even greater opportunities, while still protecting public health. This bill would:

  • Remove current limitations on the locations of sales, allowing any direct-to-consumer sale regardless of location (including allowing internet sales, as long as there is a face-to-face component);
  • Allow any non-potentially hazardous food to be sold;
  • Allow all types of pickles, not just cucumbers. The producer would be required to use an approved recipe or test the recipe to meet pH safety standards.
  • Allow frozen fruits and vegetables, expanding consumer access to locally raised healthy food year-round.

Capping Farmers’ Market Permit Fees (HB 2009/SB 932)

Local health departments appear to believe that small farmers are getting rich, to judge by the high permit fees many of them impose on farmers’ market vendors.  The permit fees cut into farmers’ narrow profit margins, and discourage them from selling at multiple markets.  Fees also discourage value-added and prepared food producers from participating, which reduces the markets’ long-term viability.

HB 2009 sets a cap on permit fees for farmers’ market vendors at $100 annually per jurisdiction, which is the fee imposed by the Department of State Health Services for its farmers’ market permit. The bill doesn’t impact any health or safety standard, just the permit fees charged to farmers’ market vendors.


Creating Better Communications (HB2107)

One of the greatest problems for small farmers and food businesses is simply knowing what the law requires, particularly since most regulations are designed for large-scale businesses. The local health departments routinely either refuse to answer questions or give conflicting answers. And conflicting interpretations by different inspectors can mean a fine for producers, even when they have complied with what they were told!

In 2013, the Texas Legislature adopted the DSHS Better Communications Act, which requires the state health department to respond to inquiries in a timely manner, and which prevents inspectors from fining the producer if he/she complies with the response. The Local Health Department Better Communications bill applies the same provisions to local health departments.

Remember the five other local food bills that have already been filed:

  • Legalizing raw milk at farmers’ markets & through delivery, HB 503/ SB 80
  • Fair taxes for small farmers, HB 97
  • Eliminating permit requirements for providing food samples at farmers’ markets, HB 1694/ SB 789
  • Establishing an ombudsman to help small farmers navigate the regulatory maze, SB 776
  • Allowing sales of ungraded eggs to restaurants and retailers, HB 1284

TAKE ACTION

If one or more of these bills resonates with you, call or email your State Representative and/or Senator (depending on which chamber the bill’s been filed in) and urge them to help move it forward. A phone call has the greatest impact; just remember to keep the conversation polite and to-the-point.

You can find out who your representatives are 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/Senator ______ to co-author (number and/or name of bill), and to help the bill move forward as quickly as possible.”

If you speak with the staffer, briefly share (in 2 -4 sentences) why the bills matter to you.

If you prefer email, your Representative’s email address is: FirstName.LastName@house.texas.gov and your Senator’s is FirstName.LastName@senate.texas.gov.

 

If any of the bills will have a significant impact on your business or your life, please consider sharing your story with us. Personal testimonies can help us rally support both in the Legislature and on social media. And if you’re willing to share your story as a witness during committee hearings, please let us know. Whether you’re willing to testify in person or just to tell your story for us to share, please email Judith@FarmAndRanchFreedom.org.


MORE INFORMATION

You can download our overview fact sheet that covers all the bills, or individual one-pagers for each one, at http://farmandranchfreedom.org/texas-legislative-session-bill-tracking/