Food Freedom

Food Freedom Movement Spreads to North Dakota

The right to sell what you make without overwhelming government regulation affirmed.


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North Dakota is set to add to the small-but-growing list of states that boast "food freedom" legislation. The state legislature sent a food freedom bill to Gov. Doug Burgum (R) this week. He's indicated he'll sign the bill, which will open up direct-to-consumer sales of virtually any foods (save meat or raw dairy products) in the state.

North Dakota's law is fashioned after a groundbreaking Wyoming law, the Food Freedom Act. The Wyoming law, adopted in 2015, deregulated many direct-to-consumer food sales in the state.

Coincidentally, Wyoming lawmakers expanded the scope of that wildly successful law just last month. Among other things, Wyoming's expanded food-freedom law allows the sale of poultry and rabbit meat without mandatory inspections; permits sales of home-processed foods; and allows sales to occur in persons' homes.

I'm thrilled this important legislation has struck a chord and is spreading. Three key reasons I believe food-freedom legislation continues to spread are that it expands choices for farmers, home-based entrepreneurs, and consumers; it hasn't led to negative food-safety outcomes; and it enjoys bipartisan support.

On that latter point, a key feature of the 2015 Wyoming bill is that it passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. And last month's updates to the Food Freedom Act were co-sponsored by eight Republicans and two (of the state's nine) Democratic representatives.

Colorado's Democratic governor, John Hickenlooper, signed a food-freedom bill into law last year. That law, while more limited in scope than Wyoming's groundbreaking law, expanded permissible cottage food offerings in the state and allowed small farmers to slaughter and sell their own chickens directly to consumers.

Though food-freedom bills have secured strong bipartisan support, they've also faced their share of stiff opposition from unwavering supporters of rigid food-safety regulations. For example, the Wyoming Tribune Eagle editorial board warned in 2015 that the Food Freedom Act would "put Wyomingites' health—and even their lives—at risk." National advocates for stricter food-safety regulations, including Marion Nestle and Bill Marler, have also been critical of food-freedom legislation.

While these laws are in their infancy, it's noteworthy that the predictions of many of these opponents of food freedom that deregulation of direct-to-consumer food sales would result in an uptick in foodborne illness have not been realized. Not at all.

Wyoming State Rep. Tyler Lindholm (R) co-sponsored both the original Food Freedom Act in his state and the recent update to the law.

"Wyoming has seen the exact opposite that these do gooders predict," Lindholm told me in February. "Wyoming[']s local food options have exploded and we still have had 0 foodborne illness outbreaks due to this Act passing into law." That mirrors what he told me in 2016.

"Currently Wyoming has experienced none of the deaths that we were all warned would happen, and for that matter none of the illness[es] that were prophesized to take place upon passage of the bill," he said.

Even as food-safety issues haven't materialized, passing food-freedom laws is still a tough row to hoe.

In February, I wrote about a Montana bill, the Local Food Choice Act, which would have legalized the sale of homemade foods and "encourage[d] the expansion of agricultural sales by ranches, farms, and home-based producers" in the state. That bill stalled in committee last month.

"Legislators introduced Food Freedom bills in seven states during the 2017 legislative session—an indication that people are growing increasingly tired of the government denying their food choices by trying to protect them from themselves," said Pete Kennedy of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (where I serve as a board member) in an email to me this week.

The fact only North Dakota's bill passed out of the state legislature is also an indication that these laws are spreading more slowly than farmers and consumers would prefer.

Where will food freedom legislation pop up next? Certainly, efforts will continue in states where the legislation fell short. It's also sure to spread to new states. I'm involved in early efforts in my new home, Washington State, to push for food freedom legislation here.

"Food freedom laws benefit the local economy, the bottom line of sustainable family farms, food security and the public health," Pete Kennedy tells me. "Their popularity will only increase as the movement continues back to a time when unregulated farmer-to-consumer direct commerce in this country was the norm."

NEXT: What Uncle Sam and Jim Crow Taught Hitler

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  1. The never ending story of solving government-created problems. O certainly see and believe in the theory of self-ownership and how it guides discussions of liberty, but when you get right down to it, what drives me the most in despising government is how almost every social problem is at root caused by government. US government reached the tipping point during the Civil War, I think, and ever since, one way or another, people have turned to government coercion to remake society in their own image. After all, what was the Civil War but the ultimate example of how to remake society?

    Food Freedom is a fantastic counter-example, if only we can get enough people to open their eyes. Everybody has eaten food from friends’ or relatives’ kitchens, or community potlucks, it’s so damned obvious that government does not need to stick its nose in there, yet the statists continue to shout about diarrhea in the streets, death and disaster, and people just go along.

    I think there must be some relation to so many states adopting looser gun laws, open carry, constitutional carry, etc. Again, the statists were able to add lots of regulation with blood in the streets scare tactics which have been proven false.

    Maybe the revolution starts this way.

    1. This got me to thinking. After we landed men on the moon, every impatient asshole with a social axe to grind would say “If we can land men on the moon, why can’t we solve ….” where the goal was some social ill, such as poverty, racism, income inequality, and so on. It was also applied to cancer, heart disease, traffic deaths, and a lot of real problems, but those actually could be influenced by government money, and so only egged on the social justice warriors.

      I wonder how much the Civil War was the same excuse for government intervention a century earlier? After all, it was social change effected by government coercion. We like to joke (truthfully!) about even the tiniest government regulation being ultimately backed by the threat of death; that war killed 800K people, maybe a million, and if that isn’t social justice warrior’s wet dream, I’m a monkey’s uncle.

      I wonder how many late 1800s progressives actually said things like “If we could end slavery, why can’t we clean up the meat packer? the railroads? child labor?” I wonder how many were inspired by such a sterling example of noble government lethal intervention to dream of yet more lethal government intrusion into daily lives/

      1. Meat inspection legislation was driven by the big meat packers. They wanted to drive municipal meat inspection (most cities had that) and local butchers (better paid than slaughterhouse employees) out of business. Federal meat inspection had been in place for them since 1890 since Europe demanded it be inspected before export. Like MOST progressive era legislation, the purpose was to force smaller competitors out, to move jurisdiction to the federal level so the regulators could be captured by the big, and to transfer their own inspection costs to taxpayers.

        What gets written into history books and is still misinterpreted today is that the role of the mass media was to find ways/issues in which the general population’s emotions could be focused, riled up and then manipulated into supporting the legislation that big business was actually driving. Today, it is only the radical left (like Gabriel Kolko) who actually pay much attention to the corporate cronies then – while libertarians (who used to see a lot of common ground with Kolko/etc) have responded with an anarcho (if govt then was successfully ‘captured’ when it was tiny, then the obvious problem is that govt was too big even then) dead-end

    2. How about the uncivil unwars?

  2. “Currently Wyoming has experienced none of the deaths that we were all warned would happen, and for that matter none of the illness[es] that were prophesized to take place upon passage of the bill,”

    This reminds me of when the federal government shut down and nobody noticed anything different about their lives. It’s almost as if government regulation provides little or no value. I’m stunned truly I am.

  3. Wait a minute! Individual freedom??! That’s crazy talk! What about the children?
    I am waiting for the FDA to play DOJ and ignore state/local laws to push the federal regulations down everyone’s throat.

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