We are excited to report that this week, three important local food bills passed in the Texas legislature! These bills will directly and indirectly help farmers, food producers, and small businesses to expand and prosper. Below are summaries of each bill as provided by Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance:
HB 970 – Encouraging home-based food production, aka “cottage foods”: Until last year, anyone making and selling any food at all (other than uncut fruits and vegetables) had to do so in a commercial, licensed facility that was subject to regulations designed for large-scale industrial food production. Last session, the Texas Legislature provided that “cottage food producers” could make specific low-risk foods in their homes and sell directly to consumers, up to $50,000 per year, without being regulated by the state and local health departments.
The bill has led to the establishment and growth of numerous small businesses in this state, with no reports of resulting foodborne illness. HB 970 expands the law to include other foods designated as non-potentially hazardous by the FDA. The bill also removes the restriction that the sale has to occur at the person’s home, allowing the seller and buyer to connect at farmers markets, farm stands, and nonprofit community events.
HB 1382 – Making it easier to provide samples at farmers markets and farm stands: Letting potential customers sample food is a great way to increase sales and encourage people to try unusual fruits and vegetables. But current regulations that govern food samplings are based on the conditions in brick-and-mortar facilities and pose unnecessary challenges for farmers and food producers at local farmers’ markets. HB 1382 provides clear, reasonable standards for sampling at farmers’ markets and farm stands. The bill also clarifies the standards for cooking demonstrations at farmers’ markets, and exempts educational cooking demonstrations from permit fees.
HB 1392 – Directing the DSHS to respond to inquiries about the law and its application to specific factual situations: Farmers and small-scale food producers have faced serious problems because of the inability to determine what is actually required under the regulations. When asked, the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) provides little guidance, leaving the producers to decide whether to invest anywhere from several hundred to tens of thousands of dollars and potentially still face fines depending on the department’s discretion. HB 1392 directs DSHS to respond to inquiries about how the law applies to a farmer’s or food producer’s specific facts within 30 days, so that they can comply with the law in good faith.