Rotunda Roundup from Montana Farmers Union: Legislative Update for Jan. 16-20
Montana Farmers Union supported ranchers and consumers in the fight to receive fair markets and transparent labeling through HB 350 last week. Many proponents advocated for the bill, which is a priority for MFU, during its hearing in House Ag Committee. MFU policy urges Country of Origin labeling of all agricultural commodities and processed food products sold in the U.S.
Montanans want to know where their food comes from and consumers deserve honest and transparent labeling when it comes to all food products, which we do not have for beef and pork currently. The bill asks for a placard or a sign to be placed in the vicinity of the beef and pork products at a retail location, identifying “Born, raised, and processed in the USA.” Or if that information is not known, as “Imported/Origin Unlabeled.”
When Congress repealed COOL for beef and pork in 2015 it allowed Multinational packers to start labeling beef and pork imported from foreign countries with a Product of USA label allowing unfettered use of the USDA stamp which misleads consumers. Mandatory COOL has been a long-standing priority for MFU members and we look forward to continuing our work on this important issue.
The committee will take Executive Action on the bill THIS WEEK. You can go to https://montanafarmersunion.com/legislation/ to learn more about the bill and contact the committee and urge their support!
Also this week, MFU supported:
- HB 312: Rep. Jodee Etchart: Having access to a hospital that can provide emergency, and lifesaving care, truly can mean the difference between life and a horrible tragedy in our small communities. The trend of losing rural hospitals across the nation and a lack of rural physicians is concerning for many who live in rural Montana. Even the loss of one rural hospital could double or triple travel time to access care. This bill provides a valuable opportunity for hospitals to have the option to apply for this rural emergency hospital license/designation so our rural hospitals have another tool to continue providing care.
- HB 93: Rep. Paul Green: The simple bill will move control of the noxious weed seed free forage advisory council to a more active advisory council so the department can continue their work on Noxious Weed Seed Free Management and related programs.
- HB 66: Rep. Greg Kmetz: The bill will make paperwork required when importing livestock easier to complete. Changing the due dates for the per-capita fee will allow ranchers to get on with their business, and take care of the reporting when making their per-capita payment in the spring.
- HB 51: Rep. Joe Read: Producers should be fairly compensated for their livestock in the event they must depopulate their herds due to disease. This bill simplifies the process, from a using a complicated indemnity formula and negotiating registered animals’ value to providing compensation at 100% of appraised value.
- SR 28: Sen. Mike Lang: Confirm the appointment of current Director Christy Clark to continue as the Dept. of Agriculture’s Director. Montana is lucky to have Director Clark in this post, as she has done amazing work on the behalf of Montana producers. She leads a strong team that serves family farmers and ranchers well. MFU thanks Director Clark for her work and looks forward to continuing to work with her.
MFU also opposed several bills this past week, including:
- SB 202: Sen. Greg Hertz: While our members want their farm products to be sold in local markets and to support community food systems, we also have policy in support of food safety and local control. Montana’s Cottage Food law went into effect in 2015. This law was the product of a lot of hard work and collaboration among many stakeholders, and was a boon to Montana producers. It allowed all forms of in-person sales within the state. SB 199, the MT Local Food Choice Act was passed last session and it removed almost all restrictions from selling homemade food, and it prevents government agencies from regulating a producer. There was a lot of confusion around its implementation, which has not been a benefit to the cottage food industry. SB 202 seems to muddy the waters about what food safety rules a local farmers market may adopt. We think local markets should have the freedom to stay with rules that have been working for them, and we support the Department of Agriculture and the DPHHS in their efforts to monitor standardized state programs for food safety at farmers markets and within the cottage food industry.
- SB 189: Sen. Theresa Manzella: MFU policy states that we want to “Promote voting processes which secures the ease of access to voting by all citizens, including but not limited to mail-in ballots, ballot drop boxes, early voting, convenient access to polling places, and same day registration.” SB 189 would severely restrict the ability of rural folks to vote by requiring a supermajority vote of the Legislature to hold certain special elections by mail. Some of our members would have to drive very long distances to get to a polling place and administering those polling places puts a strain on county coffers. There were a lot of amendments introduced during the hearing, which have affected the meaning of the bill, and MFU will continue to monitor this bill as it moves through the legislative process.
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.