Why Local Food Freedom Matters
The Wyoming Food Freedom Act is a rare beast: a bill, just signed into law by Wyoming’s Governor Matt Mead, that fights for the deregulation of locally-produced foods and promotes direct farm-to-consumer food sales.
As The Republic reports, the act exempts “Wyoming food sales from government inspections, licensing and certification as long as they are single transactions between a producer and an ‘informed end consumer.'” This applies to farmers’ market sales, as well as “the ability for small farmers or other individuals to sell homegrown or locally raised products.” Such direct-to-consumer sales will no longer be subjected to any “licensure, permitting, certification, inspection, packaging, or labeling” requirements by state agencies.
“This law will take local foods off the black market. It will no longer be illegal to buy a lemon meringue pie from your neighbor or a jar of milk from your local farm,” Representative Tyler Lindholm, sponsor of the bill, told Farm to Consumer. Farm to Consumer notes that, despite some fears of public health, the bill had widespread local support:
The Senate committee hearing was packed with consumers, ranchers, farmers and small food producers. They told the senators that the government should not be involved in dictating what kinds of food an individual wants to buy.
“The government is not my parent,” said Cheyenne resident Lisa Glauner. “I would much rather have food the way God made it than to have FDA-approved food that is not even real, like Kraft macaroni and cheese that doesn’t even have real ingredients.”
Frank Wallis from northern Campbell County, said many rural residents also depend on being able to sell their locally produced foods as a way to supplement their incomes. “I urge you all to vote for this bill; it will be good for the rural economy of Wyoming,” he said. “It will help small ranchers and farmers make a living.”
Joel Salatin, in his book Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal, describes the beauty of local food sales—a system in which we could enjoy local baked goods from our neighbor, a steak from a steer “that never stepped onto a trailer to be co-mingled at a slaughterhouse with animals of dubious extraction,” but was rather killed on its home farm “by the farmer who cared for it,” washed down with wine from “the neighbor’s grapes.” It’s a vision of community-based entrepreneurship, a system that would allow start-ups and small artisans to thrive.
Why doesn’t this system exist? “Because everyone is paranoid of the unscrupulous,” Salatin answers. This fear is one we hold in common—traditional conservatism encompasses a healthy appreciation of human fallibility and sin, the tendency to act out of greed rather than out of care—but the way in which we address this fear of the unscrupulous often differs considerably from the liberal position, which strives to address corruption and error via a top-down system. This is the system currently in place—but in practice, regulators and government bureaucrats are just as prone to human error and greed as producers are. The “government-can-fix-it” mentality just leads to crony capitalism, regulations that favors agribusinesses and hurt the small farmer or artisan.
As Salatin puts it, “While [the government fix] may start sincerely, by the time it gets implemented on the ground and has been through the sieve of corporate dinners, it hurts the little guys and helps the big guys.” Eventually, the food deemed “safe” becomes more and more homogenous, in order to prevent any sort of error: “In the name of offering only credentialed safe food, we will only be able to eat irradiated, genetically adulterated, inhumane, taste-enhanced, nutrient-deficient, emulsified, reconstituted pseudo-food from Archer Daniels Midland, ‘supermarket to the world.'”
Salatin’s language is colorful and humorous, but hopefully it doesn’t distract too much from his larger point: federal regulations can’t and won’t fix the unscrupulous. Oftentimes, they just whitewash it. While federal accountability isn’t wrong in and of itself, it’s an expensive and often impractical means of accountability. A more efficient, diverse, and principled system (though more personally-taxing) is the local one, in which consumers can visit, converse with, and personally inspect the farms from which they procure their food. It’s a system policed without government cost, and reinforced by self-interest.
Of course products sold nationally, over great distances, may continue to require a standard of public health, so that shoppers know the process by which produce makes it into their grocery carts was sanitary, responsible, and consistent. But why should the standards required for this sort of long-term travel also be applied to direct farm-to-consumer food sales? It’s not only impractical—it’s expensive, for both consumer and producer. And it’s why Wyoming’s Food Freedom Act makes so much sense.