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Citizens, farmers express worries about proposed food regulations
Wyoming Department of Agriculture Consumer Health Services manager Dean Finkenbinder debated possible food regulations with farmers Wednesday at High Plains Power. Photo by Emily Etheredge

Citizens, farmers express worries about proposed food regulations

Jun 30, 2012 - By Emily Etheredge, Staff Writer

New rule revisions cover leafy greens, raw milk and egg grading.

Nan Slingerland thinks federal regulations are filtering down on farmers like snowflakes.

"I would appreciate pointers on how to run my farm instead of being saddled with pages and pages of regulations," Slingerland said.

Slingerland was one in a group of concerned citizens and farmers who spoke up to protect their food rights during a three-hour meeting Wednesday at High Plains Power.

The Wyoming Department of Agriculture Consumer Health Services section extended a public comment period for new rule revisions covering leafy greens, raw milk and egg grading. The department hosted three meetings in Riverton, Casper and Sheridan.

Wyoming Department of Agriculture Consumer Health Services manager Dean Finkenbinder addressed the crowd with proposed changes that could make it more difficult for small farmers in Wyoming to sell their products.

Cut leafy greens

Finkenbinder said some of the changes would deem cut leafy greens as a potentially hazardous food if cut and washed outside of a certified kitchen.

"There have been outbreaks with lettuce when cut, where the lettuce leaves develop bacteria," Finkenbinder said. "Once the leaves are cut, they are susceptible to different kinds of germs, and if you have a restaurant that is wanting to buy these greens, it would like them to be handled correctly."

Slingerland said there was not a producer in the room who whacked lettuce carelessly.

Steve Doyle asked for statistics of individuals in Fremont County who had become ill after eating lettuce laden with bacteria.

Finkenbinder said there were no outbreaks in Wyoming, but he had concerns there might be outbreaks in the future.

Under the proposed rule change, cut leafy greens could not be sold for profit if the green leaves had been cut, shredded, sliced, chopped or torn.

Wyoming state Sen. Eli Bebout asked Finkenbinder if the state had an obligation to follow the FDA regulations or if Wyoming could adapt the rules to fit the state.

Finkenbinder said he doubted there would be problems with the FDA.

"People buy from small farmers by choice," said John Birbari, chairman of the Fremont County Republican party. "If people don't want to do that, they go to larger chain grocery stores. Free market is the most efficient and costs the people of Wyoming nothing."

Birbari said it was in the farmer's best interest to sell a clean product, and if the product was not right, they would not be selling it.

"Wyoming people do not need another government regulation," Birbari said. "Large supermarkets exercise control over their companies. Wyoming is supposedly a state where free market still exists."

Jack Schmidt, of Fremont Local Foods, said farmers want to do everything safe and right and said he was concerned more regulations would continue.

"Regulations are snuffing out the small farmer," Schmidt said.

Finkenbinder said if enough people expressed their disapproval it could result in regulations being changed.

Ungraded eggs

The subject of ungraded eggs shifted the conversation. Finkenbinder said ungraded eggs could be sold at farmers markets to any consumer as long as instructions to keep the eggs cool was posted on the package.

"Some people have shown an interest in selling their eggs to licensed establishments, and they must be (graded) by law," Finkenbinder said.

Finkenbinder said anyone wanting to process eggs to sell must have the minimum requirements: a hand sink, a sink for washing eggs and a light.

State Rep. Sue Wallis asked what the purpose was for having two sinks.

"I'm fairly certain that if someone is washing their eggs under water, their hands are going to be clean as they are washing them," Wallis said.

Finkenbinder said someone could not wash her hands in the same sink in which she was washing the eggs.

Raw milk

In the area of raw milk, the current food rule states that "unpasteurized milk and products made from unpasteurized milk (except cheese qualifying under subsection (d)) may not be sold, delivered, served, or provided for human consumption."

Finkenbinder said the Department of Agriculture was hoping to make the wording less restrictive by proposing a change that would state, "this subsection does not apply to individuals who obtain milk from animals solely owned by them, members of their family, or their employer who furnish raw milk or products from raw milk only to members of their family or non paying guests."

A common feeling among the crowd was the word "solely," which would limit those who might want to share the milk of a cow with their neighbor or those who participate in cow sharing where several different people own one cow.

Steve Doyle said he was concerned with the regulations shutting down raw milk sales.

"My family has a small dairy cow, and we get knocks on our door all the time with requests to sell our milk," Doyle said. "The economic benefit of selling raw milk in this county is huge."

Doyle told a story of a police officer knocking on his door because his daughters had food allergies. The police officer wanted to purchase raw milk and bought five to six gallons of raw milk a week from the Doyle's.

"His daughters started putting on weight, they gained color in their skin, and it was important to them to keep their family alive," Doyle said." "We put ourselves on the line, and we would do it again."

Finkenbinder said he also had a story of a girl who drank raw milk, contracted E. coli and had to spend time in the hospital.

Schmidt said if a person knew a farmer well enough, he should be able to buy a product and know it wouldn't make them sick.

"If I buy milk from someone who is giving it to their children, I am sure as heck going to buy it from them," Schmidt said.

Andy Whitehurst said the biblical region of Canaan was known as the land of milk and honey.

"It was not known as the land of pasteurized milk, or pasteurized honey," Whitehurst said.

"Whose job is it to raise my child? My job, or the federal government's job?"

Whitehurst said adding more regulations was a dangerous trend. He said he would like to see Wyoming go the other direction.

"I think our state could actually lead the nation in showing them we don't have to adhere to so many government regulations," Whitehurst said.

Finkenbinder concluded the meeting by saying he would look at removing cut leafy greens from the proposed regulations as well as the word "solely" from the raw milk section, and he would look at the provisions to sell poultry to the consumer without having to go a processing plant.

After the meeting, Doyle said he felt positive about the discussion and was pleased to have two state representatives show their support for local farmers.

"It is important that farmers are being listened to," Doyle said.

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