Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund
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Food freedom demanded from Dept. of Ag

By Bill McCarthy |

Wyomingites told officials they want less government involvement in food safety

CHEYENNE -- Several people told state officials on Wednesday they don't want the government between consumers and the cow when it comes to milk.

"I want the option to buy raw milk for health reasons," Dr. Rebecca Painter, a Gillette internal medicine physician, told representatives of the state Department of Agriculture.

The agency was taking comments on proposed changes to the Wyoming Food Safety Rule.

Dean Finkenbinder of the state's Consumer Health Services said after the hearing that selling raw milk to consumers is illegal in Wyoming -- and he wants to keep it that way.

"I've seen too many illnesses from unpasteurized milk" to approve of changes that would allow selling raw milk directly to consumers, he said.

But Painter said illnesses from raw milk are treatable and are usually caused by bacteria.

The ill affects from processed foods, including milk, and exposure to things such as hormones, chemicals and genetic modification are not understood, Painter said.

"There was no such thing as a life-threatening peanut allergy when I was in medical school," Painter said.

The discussion over selling raw milk is part of a years-long debate about the extent of government involvement in food safety and the ability of local small farmers, ranchers and kitchen entrepreneurs to sell products directly to consumers.

Jason Fearneyhough, director of the Department of Agriculture, said the comments will be considered and may lead to changes in the proposal.

Ultimately the governor has the final say.

Gov. Dave Freudenthal said Wednesday that he has not had time to evaluate the current proposal.

He did sign into law a bill passed by the Legislature this year that loosened restrictions for the cottage-food industry. That law triggered the rule changes.

Rep. Sue Wallis, R-Recluse, sponsored the cottage food industry bill.

"We don't believe there was any authority (in the law) for a great number of these rules," Wallis said.

Along with banning of the sale of raw milk, Wallis said, vague language and a requirement to provide samples allow food inspectors to arbitrarily harass and impede cottage-food businesses.

"People have the right to buy the food of their choice from the producer of their choice," she added.

Mike Ridenour of Yoder is a small producer who sells at local markets.

Language saying cottage businesses may register with the state for safety training could lead to a two-tiered system where those registered could illegitimately claim to be safer than those that did not register, he said.

Bob Harrington is director of the Casper-Natrona County Health Department. He said food safety training and registration should be mandatory so problems can be traced to their source.

"This is critical and should not be treated as a voluntary issue."


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