March 23, 2015: The Texas Legislature is kicking into high gear, and we have some great bills that will help local farmers and food producers bring you more of the delicious local foods you want!
Seven bills have been introduced to eliminate barriers for local farmers and artisan food producers, including bills to:
- allow the sale of more foods produced in home kitchens
- reduce property taxes for sustainable farmers, urban farms, and community gardens
- expand where raw milk can be sold
- increase agency accountability and responsiveness to small farmers’ concerns
- require the labeling of genetically engineered foods
More information on each bill is at the end of this alert.
Will you help us get these important bills passed?
The legislators need to hear from YOU! The chance of any of these bills passing this session depends heavily on the voice of committed Texans. It only takes a few minutes to contact your legislator, and it really does make a difference. Here are some helpful steps:
Visit www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us or call the Capitol Switchboard at 512-463-4630. The Switchboard can connect you directly to your legislators’ offices if you wish.
Please note: these are state bills, not federal. You want to contact your State Representative and Senator, not your Congressperson.
Step 2: Call or email your State Representative.
Calls are the best way (next to an in-person visit) to make an impact on your legislators. If you prefer email, be sure to personalize your message by explaining why this issue matters to you and your community – even a couple of sentences really helps increase your impact.
Here is a sample script to use for calls to your State Representative, or to help you write a personalized email:
“Hi, my name is ____ and I am a constituent. I am calling to urge Representative ___ to co-author the local food bills, specifically:
- HB 91, to legalize the sale of raw milk at farmers’ markets and through delivery;
- HB 809, to provide a voice for small-scale livestock owners at the Texas Animal Health Commission;
- HB 1846, to create accountability and transparency at our state agencies in implementing food regulations;
- HB 1900, to provide for fair property tax treatment for sustainable farmers, urban farms, and community gardens;
- HB 2600, to allow more people to have home-based food businesses;
- HB 3499, to require labeling of genetically engineered foods.
Do you know where Representative _____ stands on these bills?”
If the staffer says they don’t know where their boss stands (which is common), say: “I would appreciate it if you would call me back after talking with the Representative. This issue is very important to me and my family.”
Step 3: Call your State Senator.
Sample script to use for calls to your State Senator, or to help you write a personalized email:
“Hi, my name is ____ and I am a constituent. I am calling to urge Senator ___ to co-author the local food bills, specifically:
- SB 786, to create an agricultural ombudsman to help small farmers and food businesses navigate the regulatory maze; and
- SB 1581, to provide for fair property tax treatment for sustainable farmers, urban farms, and community gardens;
Do you know where Senator ____ stands on these bills?”
If the staffer says they don’t know where their boss stands, say: “I would appreciate it if you would call me back after talking with the Senator. This issue is very important to me and my family.”
Step 4: Spread the word to your friends and family! Forward this email, post on social media, and encourage people to visit our website. We need as many people as possible to call!
Fact sheets for all of FARFA’s priority bills, as well as updates on other good & bad bills, are available here.
* HB 91 improves access to raw milk, which is already legal to sell in Texas. 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, as well as make arrangements for delivery. 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 809 provides a voice for small-scale livestock and poultry owners at the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC). The TAHC regulates all livestock and poultry in this state, from the largest feedlots to backyard chickens, yet there are currently no Commissioners who represent small-scale producers. HB 809 would recognize that small-scale producers should have a seat at the table in discussions about animal health.
* HB 1846 provides important transparency and accountability before Texas state agencies take any steps to implement new federal food safety regulations. The FDA is in the final stage of adopting extensive new food safety regulations, and has announced that it plans to enter into cooperative agreements with states as a significant portion of the implementation of these regulations. HB 1846 requires state agencies to publish their intention to enter into any such agreement with FDA and allow an opportunity for public comment, as well as consult with key legislators. This process is very similar to the standard process the agencies must undergo before adopting state regulations. The bill does not prevent the agencies from taking federal funding or force them to defy federal law; it merely requires them to follow a procedure that allows Texans to make their voices heard to ensure that any such agreement is in the best interests of Texas farmers and consumers.
* HB 1900 and SB 1581 establish fair property tax for sustainable farmers, urban farms and community gardens. Current state law provides that land shall be appraised as qualified agricultural land if it is primarily used for agricultural use. “Agricultural use” is defined broadly, yet many local county assessors have applied it in a restrictive, narrow manner that is not consistent with the legislative language or intent. Under these restrictive applications, urban farms, vegetable farms, sustainable livestock 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.
* HB 2600 encourages home-based food production by expanding what foods can be prepared in home kitchens and where they can be sold. FARFA helped pass cottage food bills in 2011 & 2013, which allow people to make and sell listed nonpotentially hazardous foods at home and sell them directly to consumers at specific locations. The result: over 1,000 new businesses! Now it’s time for the next step. The new home processors’ bill would allow tamales, canned and fermented vegetables, potentially hazardous baked goods, and other foods to be prepared in home kitchens under a common-sense regulatory scheme, and sold both directly to consumers and wholesale within the state of Texas.
* HB 3499 would require labeling of foods containing genetically engineered ingredients, or genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Unlike traditional plant hybridization and animal breeding, which try to develop better varieties by selecting traits from the same species, genetic engineering techniques insert specific genes from any plant, animal or microorganism into the DNA of a different species to create new organizations that could not occur in nature. GMOs are widespread in our food system. The majority of corn, soybeans, canola, cotton and sugar beets grown in this country are GMO. GMO ingredients are found in over 80% of all processed foods in the U.S. and can be difficult for a consumer to identify. Consumers want to avoid GMOs for a wide range of reasons, including the lack of long-term studies on their health effects, the increased use of associated herbicides, and the patenting of seeds. Labeling is necessary to allow the free market to function properly and allow people to make informed decisions.
* SB 786 creates an ombudsman position at the Texas Department of Agriculture to help small farmers and artisan food producers navigate the regulatory maze