Rotunda Roundup from Montana Farmers Union: Legislative Update for Feb. 6-10
By Rachel Prevost and Jasmine Krotkov
Montana Farmers Union Government Affairs Team
Despite much proponent testimony in favor of country of origin labeling, HB 350 to revise country of origin labeling was killed in the House Agriculture committee this week. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Frank Smith, was one of MFU’s top priority bills this session. There was lots of great proponent testimony advocating for the bill, including support from the Montana Cattleman’s Association, Montana Organic Association, Northern Plains Resource Council, the Montana American Indian Caucus, the Blackfeet Tribe, and Montana producers. The bill was opposed by Montana Farm Bureau Federation, Montana Stockgrowers, the Montana Chamber of Commerce, and the Montana Retailers Association.
Currently, imported meat can be labeled “Product of the USA” if it has been packaged in the United States. HB 350 would have required retailers to make a reasonable effort to post a placard by beef and pork indicating to the best of their knowledge the meat’s origin. Tuesday, the bill was killed in committee on an 8-11 vote and was subsequently tabled by a voice vote.
Committee members who voted to pass the bill out of committee were: Democrats Dave Fern, Bob Carter, Melissa Romano, Frank Smith, Katie Sullivan, Marvin Weatherwax and Republicans James Bergstrom and Paul Green.
Committee members who voted to kill the bill were: Republicans Josh Kassmier, Marty Malone, Julie Dooling, Fred Anderson, Kenneth Walsh, Tony Brockman, Brad Barker, Casey Knudsen, Braxton Mitchell, Greg Kmetz, and Zack Wirth.
County of origin labeling also is being discussed at a national level, with the bipartisan American Beef Labeling Act that is co-sponsored by Montana Senator Jon Tester, who is joined by Republican senators Mike Rounds, John Thune, and Cynthia Lummis, along with Democratic senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Cory Booker. MFU looks forward to continuing this work at the federal level.
House Agriculture committee also took executive action on HB 276 on Tuesday. A Montana Farm to Food Bank Program is an opportunity for the State of Montana to expand markets for small producers, increase access to Montana grown and raised foods, and strengthen our local food system. The Montana Department of Agriculture is well-positioned to create a Farm to Food Bank grant program by working closely with partners across the state. The Department can streamline the program by working with a nonprofit organization to administer the program. This nonprofit would work closely with food pantries and food banks across Montana, providing grant funding and support to cultivate relationships and increase the purchase of local foods. After a short presentation before executive action to present specifically how the grant program would work, the bill was voted out of committee 18-0.
MFU also supported:
- HB 158, Sponsored by Rep. Joshua Kassmier, Revise custom exempt facilities as required by the Federal Meat Inspection Act. It brings Montana code into alignment with Federal code, and meets how the department is currently operating for this section of code.
- SJ 9, Sponsored by Sen. Butch Gillespie, Joint resolution establishing soil health week and day. This bill was heard in the Senate Agriculture, Livestock, and Irrigation Committee. We thank the sponsor for bringing this bill forward. MFU members and our policy recognize the importance of soil health, and Montana’s farmers and ranchers are leaders in healthy soil practices. A Montana Soil Health week can help raise awareness of these good practices and continue to educate others about how agriculture and soil health are critically important. MFU focuses a lot on having a space at the table for the next generation, and soil health and conservation is certainly important to ensuring there are farms and ranches for the next generation to come.
- HB 383, Sponsored by Rep. Tom France, Establish the Montana hunters and anglers’ community fund. This bill recognizes that “resident and nonresident hunters and anglers depend on rural Montana for hunting and fishing opportunities, an array of community services, and the goodwill of private landowners and small communities.” Our rural members have written a policy statement saying, “We emphasize the preservation of rural community life and the traditional independence of farmers living on the family farm.” The bill establishes a fund to which people may donate $1 or more above the price of a wildlife conservation license purchased for community development projects. MFU also notices that this bill calls for a seven-member community fund board, and allows for one of those members being a landowner. We wish we’d seen the words “farmer or rancher” in describing any of those board members, but that wish won’t stop us from supporting this bill.
Go to https://montanafarmersunion.com/legislation/ for more details on MFU’s legislative work throughout the Legislative Session on behalf of Montana’s farmers, ranchers and rural communities.
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