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Legislative Update

Passage of bills spells progress for local food movement

By Anna Toon, 3:00PM, Wed. May. 8, 2013

Hens at Coyote Creek Organic Farm
Hens at Coyote Creek Organic Farm
Photo courtesy of janekophotography.com

Local foodies rejoice! The Texas House of Representatives has voted to pass House Bill 970. Widely known as the cottage foods bill and sponsored by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, the bill expands on last session's cottage foods law, Senate Bill 81.

HB 970 adds to the list of allowed low-risk foods to be produced in the home to include candy, nuts, nut and fruit butters, dried fruits and vegetables, cereal, granola, dry mixes, pickles, and vinegar. In addition, HB 970 allows products to be sold at farmers markets, farm stands, fairs, and similar events by exempting cottage food producers from zoning restrictions. “Being able to market their low-risk products at farmers markets and other community events would allow home producers to build a meaningful business,” said Kelley Masters, owner of Home Sweet Home Bakery and organizer of the grassroots movement, Texas Baker’s Bill. “Some producers with high quality, unique products will use this opportunity as a springboard to a larger commercial operation, with a proven, successful product.”

Opposition in the Senate appears unlikely, and if all goes as well, HB 970 should hit the Senate floor before the end of the month. Says Rodriguez, “Like the Farm-to-Table Caucus, the cottage foods bill enjoys broad bipartisan support.” He adds, “I’m excited to see what kinds of small businesses are able to flourish after this bill makes it through the Senate.”

HB 1392, the Department of State Health Services Better Communications Act, was also voted to pass through the House. According to Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance’s Executive Director Judith McGeary, “The DSHS Better Communications bill, by Rep. Susan King, R-Abilene, addresses one of the major problems that small farmers and local food producers face: knowing what they have to do to comply with the laws.” Adds McGeary: “The regulations are written with large industrial facilities in mind, so it can be very unclear what a small producer has to do. Right now, our members are left to guess how the law applies to their factual situation, with the potential of fines if they guess wrong.” HB 1392 is also awaiting a Senate vote.

However, not all news is good. The house voted in favor of HB 2311, the dreaded Animal ID bill, despite widespread opposition from small farms and consumers. “This bill empowers unelected bureaucrats to decide that our state's citizens must comply with every future USDA mandate,” explains Debbie Davis, who raises longhorn cattle for grassfed beef. “This could include tagging of all cattle and even every backyard chicken – all at the expense of the animal owner.” Local food advocates are asking the Senate to either vote against the bill or provide a compromise.

For more information visit farmandranchfreedom.org, email judith@farmandranchfreedom.org, or call 512-484-8821.

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