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Raw milk bill part of package to boost farm and ranch income

Monday, February 13, 2017 23:18
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The bill to make the direct sale of raw milk legal in Montana is part of a package to boost farm and ranch incomes in the Big Sky State.

The package includes cottage food legislation along with an agri-tourism section in addition to allowing milk to be sold without the benefit of pasteurization. All three topics are being explored by state lawmakers at a time when commodity prices are hurting and farmers and ranchers are nervous about possible changes in international trade.

As many as two dozen states have passed cottage food bills since 2010. Allowing people to sell what they make in their home kitchens is often promoted in state houses as a way to boost economic development.

Montana’s agri-tourism bill would lessen the liability farmers and ranchers would have by bring visitors on their properties as tourists.

House Bill 325 backers say the three bills are intended to diversify farm and ranch incomes. Rep. Ross Fitzgerald, R-Fairfield, sees the package as “another spoke on the revenue wheel.” He is the sponsor of House Bill 342, the agri-tourism bill.

HB 342 was assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday after gaining approval from the Montana House on Friday, 78-18.

As drafted, the bill defines agri-tourism and says participants must accept the “inherent risks” of activities that attract visitors to farms and ranches for entertainment or education.

Montana’s House Agriculture Committee today will hold a hearing on House Bill 352, the cottage food bill. Officially called the “Local Food Choice Act,” the 14-page bill is sponsored by Rep. G. Hertz, R-Polson.

The Local Food Choice Act calls for “the sale and consumption of homemade food and food products and to encourage the expansion of agricultural sales by ranches, farms, and home-based producers and the accessibility of homemade food and food products to informed end consumers…’

Rep. Hertz says people in rural Montana have always “bartered with our neighbors.” He says local sanitarians seem to think home kitchens are not as clean or as well equipped as “the restaurant down the street.” In committee today, Montana Farmers Union officials will be guarding against any changes in the the state’s meat processing law to stay out of potential conflict with federal livestock regulations.

HB 325, the raw milk bill, remains in the House Agriculture Committee after being the subject of a spirited public hearing last week.

Sponsored by Rep. Nancy Ballance, R-Hamilton, the raw milk bill would permit the direct sale of raw milk to consumers from the farm with herd sizes of up to 10 cows, or 25 sheep or goats, dedicated to milk production.

Balance calls HB325  “the ultimate freedom bill.”

Raw milk would have to be labeled to warn consumers it is not inspected by the state and that it is sold for personal use only.

The bill drew opposition at last week’s hearing from the Montana Milk Producers Association. An association representative said the bill as drafted does not provide for adequate disease, drug, or antibiotic testing. Further the MMPA said there is no provision in the bill for reporting test results.

Also, a veterinarian said pasteurization is uniquely needed in Montana is because its cattle herds co-exist with elk, raising the potential of the spread of brucellosis.

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