This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
I operate a sixth-generation small family farm in Layton and produce and sell products to the public at farmers markets and elsewhere. I vigorously oppose HB144, The Food Freedom Act.
In about 1968, before I was born, my family began selling their vegetables directly to customers on roadside stands in Bountiful, Magna and on our farm in Layton. We have continued that trend until the present time, where the majority of my produce is sold "Farm to Fork." I, like my father before me, work hard to ensure our food products are safe. Our profitability is dependent on consumer confidence. There is a "Food Freedom" movement that has created a false sense of consumer confidence and which in turn places my profitability at risk.
Proposed Utah legislation HB144, "The Food Freedom Act," if enacted would allow food products to be produced, processed and prepared without any oversight from entities designed to ensure the safety of food sold to a consumer. These safeguards are in place to protect the interests of the consumer and the producer. To take away those safeguards would be like taking a giant step backwards 100 years when the spread of disease was rampant and life expectancy was nearly half what it is now.
Over the past four years I have been a part of a new popular farmers market in Evanston, Wyo. This past year Wyoming's Food Freedom act was passed, which hinges on informing consumers that products have been produced with no inspections or permits from county health departments or state regulatory agencies. I have seen instances where the producer obviously failed to properly "inform" the customer. Several times I saw a customer purchase raw milk and carry it around the market for nearly an hour in 80-degree temperatures. One instance I watched a woman carry a leaking jar of raw milk through the market and place it on my table while she purchased vegetables from me. The potential to cause harm to that consumer and also spread the potential for contamination to my products terrifies me.
As I read the act, food labeling requirements that identify allergens such as peanuts, tree nuts, milk, wheat, eggs and others that harm sensitive consumers would be eliminated.
The act reduces or eliminates the traceability of foods, which is critical during food product recalls. If a recall were to occur, all of the products would be recalled, not just the suspected lot. That could impact my small business.
If the act were currently in effect, the state's food safety inspectors would have been prevented from stopping the spread of salmonella when several customers of a CSA farm in central Utah drank contaminated raw milk illegally obtained and sold to the public.
Those who support HB144 say it would let vendors at farmers markets sell farm fresh produce free from regulations. But that is already allowed now. Currently there are no regulations imposed on farmers like myself who sell raw products from the farm at outdoor markets.
Home grown eggs collected by the backyard chicken farmer are already exempt from registration and inspection, if the eggs are sold directly to the consumer. They can be sold by the owner at our home or at farmers markets with no regulations.
I see great concern to the public's health if HB144 is passed into law. Rather than proposing food anarchy, small producers could seek alternative options such as shared commercial kitchens or shared slaughterhouses so that these food products could be produced in a safe manner without insurmountable expenses to the producer.
The Food Freedom Act sounds inviting, but its name is misleading. We all want the freedom to grow our own food. In Utah we already have that freedom, and do a good job of it. Ten percent of our farms sell directly to consumers; that is higher than in most states. I don't want to threaten that positive relationship with our customers by breaking down the reasonable safeguards that are in place.
In its current form, The Food Freedom Act could actually be called the Freedom From Food Safety Act. My customers already have access to my farm fresh fruits and vegetables and current safeguards that are in place help protect consumers and vendors.
Tyson Roberts and his wife and four children run Roberts Family Farms in Layton. He serves on the Davis County Farm Bureau Board, is a supervisor on the Davis Conservation District and a director in the Utah Onion Association.