In the last five years, the state Department of Health says, about a third of Wyoming’s foodborne outbreaks were linked to unlicensed, unregulated foods, such as those prepared through churches, sports teams and homes.
We don’t know why anyone would want to open the door to an even greater risk, but a bill that passed the state House last week and now up for Senate consideration, known as the Wyoming Food Freedom Act, seeks to do exactly that. It would exempt Wyoming food sales from government oversight, including inspections, licensing and certifications, as long as they are single transactions between a producer and an “informed end consumer.”
As well-intentioned as this bill might be, we can’t support it for one simple reason: It would jeopardize Wyomingites’ health and safety, and that’s simply not a risk legislators should take.
We’ve heard the arguments for the measure. Limiting commerce isn’t something we take lightly, and we don’t support it unless the risks far outweigh the benefits.
We also appreciate the point of view of Brett Moline, who represents the Wyoming Farm Bureau and says the measure offers a way for farmers and ranchers to diversify and add income.
So does Rep. Tyler Lindholm, a Sundance Republican who said he sponsored the measure because no one else did.
“Agricultural producers throughout the state have said their biggest complaint was the government gets in the way,” the freshman legislator said last week.
Count us among those applauding anything that’s “in the way” of consumers contracting foodborne illnesses. Sure, the bill says “informed end consumers” and defines such consumers as those who know the product hasn’t been licensed, regulated or inspected.
Think about that for a moment. Regulated food labels provide facts, from place of manufacture to nutritional data to allergy information. Buyers looking at those labels are “informed consumers.”
Unlabeled food provides the reassurance of knowing you have no information at all. That’s the definition, actually, of an uninformed consumer, regardless of what the law says. And certainly children, who might be the ones drinking raw milk and are especially vulnerable to illness, don’t qualify as “informed consumers.”
Unpasteurized raw milk, in fact, is of particular concern for Dr. Tracy Murphy, the state epidemiologist at the health department. He said the state has received 41 reports of illness in the last five years.
Regulations can be burdensome, and of course there are farmers and ranchers who would do this right without them. But in this, above all things, we need to be sure, and we need to be safe.