Montana Lawmakers Cook Up Food-Choice Bills

Published March 7, 2017

The State of Montana is considering removing regulations that prevent people from purchasing “raw milk” and homemade foods directly from farmers and bakers.

The Montana House of Representatives voted to approve House Bills 325 and 352 in late February, sending both bills to the state’s Senate for consideration.

If approved by the Senate and signed into law by Gov. Steve Bullock (D), the bills would scale back government regulations preventing dairy farmers from selling unpasteurized milk and individuals from selling homemade baked goods directly to consumers.

HB 325, sponsored by state Rep. Nancy Ballance (R-Hamilton), exempts dairy farmers with fewer than five cows from state regulations requiring pasteurization of consumer milk products.

HB 352, sponsored by state Rep. Greg Hertz (R-Polson), exempts individuals producing baked goods and other “cottage foods,” including dairy farmers, from state government regulation and licensing.

‘Just About Choice’

Hertz says HB 352, the Montana Local Food Choice Act, is designed to empower consumers in the state.

“This bill is just about choice: allowing consumers the choice of where they want to buy their products from and knowing that the product may be coming from their local neighbor and their neighbor actually processed it,” Hertz said. “They have the opportunity to meet with people in their communities, knowing where the product came from, how it was raised or grown, how it was processed, and if there were any chemicals, pesticides, or preservatives introduced in that process.”

Hertz says governments should get out of the business of restricting voluntary exchanges between individuals.

“The government should not be in between a producer and a consumer when it comes to buying from your neighbors,” Hertz said. “We’ve been doing it for thousands of years; we’ve been purchasing from and bartering with our neighbors. For some reason, the government has decided to get in between us in the last four or five decades.”

Who’s the Boss?

Peter Kennedy, director of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, says bills such as HB 352 would limit the government’s authority to dictate individuals’ everyday decisions.

“It really gets down to the question of who decides what we put in our bodies,” Kennedy said. “When they are banning access to a food that’s legal to consume and making its sale or other distribution illegal, they’re really taking away our right to determine what we put in our bodies. Instead, the government is making that determination. These types of bills are an attempt to address that.”