Food Freedom

New Wyoming Law Lets Local Ranchers Sell Cuts of Meat Directly to Consumers

Wyoming’s first-and-best-in-the-nation food freedom law just keeps getting better.

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Wyoming's groundbreaking Food Freedom Act has served as a national model for how states can deregulate many in-state food sales. The five-year-old law opened up many previously illegal food transactions in Wyoming, and has delivered on its promise to benefit ranchers, other food entrepreneurs, and consumers alike. And it's done so without a single case of foodborne illness being tied to any foods sold under the law. 

The law also keeps getting better. As I detailed a column just last month, an amendment to the Act will allow low-risk foods such as homemade jams to be sold in grocery stores and sold and consumed in restaurants.

That was great news. But yet another new amendment to the law, passed last month and set to take effect in July, could further bolster the fortunes of ranchers and consumers in the state.

A new animal share amendment will let consumers buy individual cuts of meat directly from ranchers though an animal-share agreement, completely outside of the typical U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection regime. That's something that's still illegal in the other 49 states. It's also why the Wyoming law could be a game changer for ranchers in the state and—should other states follow suit—a valuable new revenue stream for farmers and ranchers across the country.

The new amendment was introduced by Wyoming State Rep. Tyler Lindholm (R), who co-sponsored the bipartisan Food Freedom Act five years ago. 

"The idea for the bill is simple," Lindholm—a rancher with whom I serve on the board of the nonprofit Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund—told me this week. "Let ranchers and farmers sell herd shares for their animals. That way the entire herd is 'owned' by all of the customers before slaughter, thereby meeting the exemption standards of the federal law, and now the rancher does not have to jump through the hoops of the Federal Meat Inspection Act and can utilize the smaller mom and pop butchers that still [exist] in most of our small towns."

The premise behind animal shares isn't new. For example, some states which prohibit raw (unpasteurized) milk sales allow distribution to people who've purchased shares in one or more of a farmer's dairy cattle. These "herdshare" agreements let a farmer raise and care for the herd-shared livestock in exchange for providing some of its (typically unpasteurized) milk to share owners.

Meat sharing has been a bit more complicated. As I detail in my book, Biting the Hands that Feed Us: How Fewer, Smarter Laws Would Make Our Food System More Sustainable, a consumer may buy a significant portion of a living cow—say one-quarter or one-half its post-slaughter weight—and take possession of its meat after it's been slaughtered in a non-USDA approved facility without running afoul of USDA rules. But that can mean buying more than 100-200 pounds of beef. Until the new Wyoming law, consumers who weren't quite that hungry (or who wanted only a particular cut of meat) have had little option but to buy from farmers who'd had their animals processed under the USDA's rules or to go to the grocery store for similarly inspected cuts.

The Wyoming amendment takes advantage of an exemption created under § 623(a) of the Federal Meat Inspection Act, which governs interstate and even most intrastate livestock slaughter and meat sales in this country. The FMIA exemption allows custom slaughtering of livestock by and for an "owner" of the animal.

The Wyoming law clarifies who is or may be an owner of livestock in that state. It does so by defining an animal share as "an ownership interest in an animal or herd of animals created by a written contract between an informed end consumer and a farmer or rancher that includes a bill of sale to the consumer for an ownership interest in the animal or herd and a boarding provision under which the consumer boards the animal or herd with the farmer or rancher for care and processing and the consumer is entitled to receive a share of meat from the animal or herd."

Since the Food Freedom Act's passage five years ago, Lindholm has sought ways to improve the law. Meat sales were always at the top of the list.

"The sale of processed meat, except poultry, is not allowed under the Food Freedom Act," Lindholm explained to me in 2015. Even five years ago, though, he was already busy at work figuring out a fix.

"We have to find a workable solution to this issue and you can expect to see legislation in the future dealing with this issue so that ranchers and farmers can also sell beef and pork directly to consumers also," he told me. "This is just the beginning."

He meant it. Still, the new amendment has its limits. It still doesn't allow for the resale or donation of meat obtained under the law; for third-party retail or restaurant sales; or for sales taking place off of a farm or ranch. It also requires, among other things, that ownership shares be established prior to an animal's slaughter.

While it's difficult to ascertain right now who might be taking advantage of the law—given it doesn't kick in until July—Lindholm learned after the bill's passage of one such person. That would be his sister Bonita Carlson, who runs Persson Ranch near Gillette, Wyoming, with her husband Drew Persson.

Bonita told me this week that the law could be a game changer for ranchers and consumers in the state.

"It's caught quite a few people's attention in the state," she tells me. "It's pretty exciting news for sure. Even with social distancing, I've spoken with probably twenty people personally who are interested in using animal shares."

Carlson tells me the fact the Wyoming law lowers costly barriers to entry for ranchers like her—for example, she won't have to transport her animal-share cattle to an out-of-state feedlot—will help her high-quality grassfed beef compete on price with larger competitors.

"We will be selling 93% lean ground beef for much cheaper than they're selling 80/20 at the grocery store," Carlson tells me. "We should be competitive enough that a single mom can purchase ground beef from us, too."

More than five years after Wyoming passed the Food Freedom Act, the law has benefited farmers and ranchers, small entrepreneurs, and consumers throughout the state. And it just keeps getting better.

NEXT: Today in Supreme Court History: April 4, 1861

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  1. Maybe the Freestaters should have gone with their number two choice (WY)?

    1. I prefer it here in NH, personally, but the slow slog to freedom is always gonna be uphill regardless.

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  2. Be careful giving the peasants a taste of liberty, they might start getting uppity and thinking they’re freedmen.

  3. “Let ranchers and farmers sell herd shares for their animals. That way the entire herd is ‘owned’ by all of the customers before slaughter, thereby meeting the exemption standards of the federal law, and now the rancher does not have to jump through the hoops of the Federal Meat Inspection Act”

    “We must close the animal-share loophole!”

    1. We need common sense beef control!

  4. Back in my day we called that “the butcher”. You would buy a quarter beef from a cattleman then the local food locker would butcher and store it for you. Or if you had the freezer for it, you could take it all home at once. It’s basically the same thing. And it was quite common.

    1. We did this growing up in Missouri. Buy a couple head of (live) cattle between a few families, keep them for a couple of years on someone’s land, take them to the local butcher . . . everyone ends up with half or 2/3 of a steer in their deep freeze. It would take us months to go through it all.

      1. I live in North Florida and buy half a cow every year. Way cheaper and the meat is sooooo much better.

    2. Ah, the Good Old Days!

  5. I am always suspicious of the FDA. I am sure they and the feds in general will try to scupper this. But it sure sounds like a good step.

    1. Don’t forget that, at one point, the FDA was created in response to real issues. Yes, Upton Sinclair openly fabricated most of The Jungle (to the chagrin of his fellow socialists) but there *were* issues of food safety — much like there are today in China.

      The nice thing about this is that it has a paper trail back to where the animal came from, so if there ever was anything truly pathogenic found at the consumer level, it could be traced back to the herd.

      1. “…but there *were* issues of food safety…”

        And the FDA did not magically make them go away; we still have them.

      2. State apologists always ignore the opportunity cost of every government intervention. It’s like the invention of radar, or the first computers, or nuclear power, or GPS navigation: those projects took enormous sums out of the hands of civilian innovators, and there’s no telling what was not invented sooner because inefficient government projects diverted all that money. Do you State apologists actually think radar never would have been invented absent the military, or business computers, or cheaper and better alternatives to expensive satellites? The military has been behind the curve for computers practically since the first commercial computers; the F-22 went though, I think, 3 generations of electronics before full production, simply because its electronics were constantly being outstripped by commercial electronics.

        Do you really think food would never have become safer absent the FDA? Do you really think the FDA has done more for food safety than private industry anxious to build reputations?

        As just one example, the FAA Emergency Location Transmitters. These are incredibly rugged radios which are activated by crashes to transmit their location to satellites which pick up their weak signals and relay them to ground stations. They have to be rugged to withstand crashes, durable to be installed and forgotten and still work years later, and they are so terrible at their function that standard practice is to ignore their beacons for a day or two in the hope that the owner will shut them off. And they don’t do particularly well when they do crash; the crash may be in a gully or the antenna may not be oriented to have a clear line of sight to the satellites.

        Someone had a better idea he called trail of crumbs: A cheap transmitter, maybe a cell phone for all I remember, which turns on and off with all the other electronics, and which sends a “I’m alive” signal every 5 or 10 minutes, and is intentionally so flimsy that it is guaranteed to break in a crash, and has no batteries so it can’t keep transmitting when the power is off. Pilots subscribe to cheap ground stations, and once those signals start coming in, if they stop coming in without the pilot having signaled end of flight, they know within 5 or 10 minutes, they can even wait a cycle or two and still respond sooner than the ELT alerts, and the trail of alerts gives a real good indication of actual flight track.

        Yet the FAA deems them illegal and still insists on paying for expensive unreliable ELTs.

        Tell me again how good government is. I have come to the conclusion that government doesn’t do anything well; even the Mafia is better at violent enforcement.

        1. Wow you really are pleased with yourself huh Bunch of Stupid Symbols?

        2. In the stupid law vane:

          Both USDA and Wyoming regulation say that to sell pegs head or feet or anything with skin on it must be clean of Detritus.(dirt and stuff) There are about nine ways to clean a cut of pork.

          However the Wyoming state inspector boilerplate operation plans say that to clean a pig you must dip the entire 400 lb body in scalding water. There is not a single tank in Wyoming that exists, so every processor must throw the heads, feet and skin in the garbage.

          Its not even law or regulation. Its some out of date “that’s the way its always been done” bit to history. As one butcher said, the demand was too low to even risk annoying the inspectors by even asking for a change. Tyranny of bureaucrats.

  6. It’s a shame the population has to invent work-arounds to buy and sell stuff.
    The government is a jealous god.

  7. Really curious what soldiermedic76’s thoughts are on this. Doesn’t he raise beef in Montana?

  8. So. Another Reason fake news headline?
    There is no selling to consumers. There is only butchering for the owner, as a service unrelated to any activity in need of federal regulation.

    1. It’s a state getting creative with the definition of “owner” so as to comply with Federal laws that shouldn’t exist in the first place. They can’t write laws allowing direct-to-consumer sales because the Feds won’t let them, so the best they can do is make the definition of “owner” so broad that it effectively allows direct-to-consumer sales.

      We don’t get to the desired end state in one shot, you gradually chip away towards the goal. Marijuana legalization worked this way, you start with medical marijuana and then gradually start issuing medical cards to everyone who complains of a headache or insomnia and eventually people realize the whole thing is a sham and you might as well just legalize it for recreational use.

  9. Anyone else notice the ranchers watching the live cow porn.

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  11. I am always suspicious of the FDA. I am sure they and the feds in general will try to scupper this. But it sure sounds like a good step.

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  12. “We will be selling 93% lean ground beef for much cheaper than they’re selling 80/20 at the grocery store,”

    In all things great and small, the greatest service, the only real service, that a government has ever provided any private citizen is benign neglect — leaving them alone to live and prosper without government meddling and plundering.

  13. Fun fact – Wyoming has reported zero covid 19 deaths.

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    2. The public health cabal was cheering today: an old man in Johnson county with advanced cancer died, and under CDC guidance that means he was a “covid 19” death. If ou believe that bull, Wyoming had its first Covid 19 death.

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  15. Mysteriously omitted from the article: a link to sellers.

    C’mon guys, throw them a bone.

  16. Carlson tells me the fact the Wyoming law lowers costly barriers to entry for ranchers like her—for example, she won’t have to transport her animal-share cattle to an out-of-state feedlot

    There are no slaughterhouses in Wyoming? And how is this a “barrier to entry?” If she doesn’t have a stock truck, she isn’t in the beef business.

    1. Wyoming has two flavors:

      Custom, where you can have your animal slaughtered. You could not sell it; your family had to eat the whole thing.

      USDA inspected: Rare and expensive in many ways. HUGE shortage of capacity. One must pay a USDA staff person full time to inspect even if you don’t have a full schedule. To get a new facility permitted costs about $200,000 and three years. EXTREMELY painful.

    2. Arapaho Ranch in Sweetwater County Wyoming is a huge organic grass feed cattle producer, and constantly on the verge of bankruptcy, the latest nail in it coffin is the DOT rules limiting the drive time. When processor demand you truck to their massive out of state processing plants, there is a good chance that it will violate drive time limits, and Super 8 motels really don’t care for a smelly cattle truck in the parking lot.

      Example: Kroger requires all beef be processed in Salt Lake City. Albertsons/Safeway centralizes all processing in Denver. Whole foods requires that the Arapahoe cattle (80/week) be driven to a processor in Colorado Springs, from which it is shipped to Denver for cutting. Arapaho Ranch to Colorado Spring is a 15 hours drive and illegal under new DOT rules

      The big marketing chain require you animals be processed in their facilities

      Example:

  17. My wife has finally come around to the notion that, if this lockdown lasts for another month, I’ll visit a farm and purchase a head of beef, ultimately freezing about 500 lbs.

    As a farmboy, I’ve done this many times, but not in the past 40 years. I’m glad to see that folks from Wyoming have more flexible options these days.

    The interesting thing is, in my state, I’m not allowed to share it with the neighbors, unless we agree in advance to “go in” on the critter together.

    Thanks for the great articles — keep ’em coming!

  18. Chickens:

    Wyoming has a shortage USDA processing, so processors can pick and choose what to take. And they don’t take chickens or ANY poultry.

    No store or restaurant can sell a duck, goose, pheasant, turkey or chicken grown in the state of Wyoming. It all is trucked in from other states. And it all vanished during the Covid 19 scare.

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  22. It’s unreal that this isn’t a right they already have!

    The right to buy and sell to whoever is willing to sell or buy from you is one of the most fundamental human rights there is.

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