Legislative Update: What’s the status on those bills?

Our 8th annual Local Food Lobby Day is coming up this Thursday and we’re excited to have over 50 people from all over the state registered to show their support for local food and farms. Back in February we introduced four bills and a Local Food Resolution and there have been some great successes and a few setbacks since then. Below is a list of our legislative priorities and their current status as they move through the House and Senate. Even if you aren’t able to attend Lobby Day with us on April 6th, you can attend in spirit by contacting your legislators and asking them to support these bills which will help build vibrant and just local food systems.

Local Food Business Opportunities (SB1469/HB2820 – Sen. Koehler/Rep. Andersson): This bill is in response to farmers market vendor complaints that market rules vary dramatically from county to county, adding expense and compliance complexity. It provides statewide consistency in certain sanitation requirements.

One of the biggest issues has been disparities in refrigeration requirements. Some counties allow coolers, while others require mechanical refrigeration, and some even say which models are allowed. There were no eggs at some markets last year because those counties made refrigeration so challenging. At another market, there was a fee for bringing a refrigerator, which was the entire profit the farmer expected to earn from eggs that season. The bill also provides that vendors may share handwashing stations. This is a first step in implementing rules negotiated, bu t not yet issued, by the Farmers Market Task Force and the IL Dept. of Public Health (IDPH). Those conversations will continue and hopefully will also address affordability of permits, but we needed to move something forward to help remove regulatory barriers.

Status: This bill was introduced in both the House and the Senate, and was amended to be an “agreed bill,” meaning that we sat down with the former opposition and worked out an amendment that satisfies all of us. It has passed committee in both chambers. There is a chance it will have been voted on and passed both chambers by the time of Lobby Day! In which case, our legislative work is done and it will go on to the Governor to become law.

Illinois Food Freedom (HB3063 – Rep. Guzzardi): Initially modeled after the Wyoming Food Freedom Act, this bill has been negotiated with public health groups, and with some compromises will actually be agreed to by these parties! This flips the entire paradigm of cottage foods (homemade foods sold at the farmers market) in Illinois. Instead of allowing nothing but a few food types, the law would allow everything but a list of more potentially dangerous foods.

Under the current cottage food law, jams, jellies and baked goods are allowed, but no value-added vegetable products (other than maybe zucchini bread) are allowed. Diversified family farms in Illinois raise more vegetables than fruits and providing an opportunity to process these foods and add value has the potential to not only decrease food waste, but to increase the economic viability of small farms. One organic vegetable farmer has said this bill will essentially eliminate food waste from her farm! It would also delete a cap on gross revenues, so that this could be a real income opportunity for food entrepreneurs.

Not allowed are things like meats, poultry, dairy (except in baked goods or caramels), sprouts, garlic in oil, cut melon or tomato (though cut and frozen tomato is allowed), canned foods with some exceptions for things like jams and pickles.

Status: This bill was introduced in the House, and has also become an “agreed bill” after amendment. It has passed committee, and could be voted on before Lobby Day.

What you can do: We need to start cultivating Senate cosponsors! Call your senators and ask them to be on the look out for the Illinois Food Freedom bill (once it passes the House) and ask them to support and co-sponsor Illinois Food Freedom.

Unprocessed Milk (SB1662 – Sen. Koehler/Rep. Breen): Provides that raw milk may be produced, distributed & sold in accordance with IL Dept. of Public Health (IDPH) rules, and deletes restriction to on-farm only sales & distribution. This bill is a response to regulations implemented last year, after 30+ years of sales under loose regulatory guidance. These new regulations limit all methods of distribution to the premises of the farm only, including herd shares, disrupting relationships and markets that developed over many decades. Herd shares were always treated as a property interest in the animals, so people could meet their farmer wherever it was convenient to receive their own milk. Now, meeting off the farm, no matter the contractual arrangement, makes everyone a criminal.

There is virtually no legal raw milk in Illinois since last year. Farmers must now be permitted, but because their markets are so restricted by the on-farm only requirement, it is not worthwhile for many to become permitted. This means one less product that our family farmers can raise and supply to our communities and one less stream of income for them, not to mention that almost all Illinois raw milk consumers are now breaking the law. We have heard numerous testimonials from people whose health, they say, has improved with raw milk, including children who overcame eczema or chronic diarrhea with low body weight. IDPH agrees with us that it would be safer to allow regulated off-farm delivery, but we have very powerful opposition working to force off-farm delivery to stay in the black market.

Status: This bill needs your help! The House version was assigned to a committee it would not have passed and has died, and the Senate version is being aggressively fought by local public health associations and various farm organizations, though the IL Dept. of Public Health supports it. We moved the Senate bill out of committee with an agreement to keep negotiating, but the other side is determined to kill it. If necessary, it can be extended all the way through next year.

What you can do: We have to educate senators and representatives, and work especially hard to gain Senate support. Call you state senator and ask them to support Unprocessed Milk. Check out these tips for speaking to your legislator about this issue.

Industrial Hemp (SB1294 – Sen. Hutchinson): Creates an opportunity for IL farmers and processors to apply for permits from the Illinois Department of Agriculture in order to grow and manufacture industrial hemp. The 2014 Farm Bill allowed states to write rules for hemp research and pilot programs, including for marketing research. Kentucky already has 135 farms, 4,500+ acres & 40 processors enrolled in hemp production.  IL was the lead producer in the ‘40s and Polo, Illinois was selected as the site for a national pilot program to grow hemp for World War II. It has been legal to buy, process, sell, and eat hemp, but we have had to import it from places like Canada, Russia, and China. (Note: Industrial hemp must have, by definition, less than 0.3% of the psychoactive substance found in other cannabis, so it is not a drug.)

Illinois passed a law in response to the 2014 Farm Bill authorizing state universities with 4-year agricultural sciences degrees to apply for hemp permits, but no applications have been filed. Since our law passed, the FDA, USDA, and DEA issued a joint statement that made clear that farmers can participate directly in research and pilot programs, and may sell their product, as long as it is part of some kind of research.

Hemp can be made into everything from rope and cloth to plastic, “hempcrete,” particle board, and cosmetics. The oil and seed are used as nutritious food. Growing hemp can help farmers remediate land to transition to organic, and have the potential to outcompete herbicide-resistant “superweeds.”

Status: This bill has quite strong support in the legislature. It was introduced in the Senate only. The bill passed committee, but it does need an amendment. We are waiting to hear from IL Dept. of Agriculture about changes that would make the program easier for them to administer.

What you can do: We are still trying to get more Senate cosponsors and letting Representatives know to watch for it. Call your senator and ask him or her to cosponsor Industrial Hemp.

Local Food Resolution (SR377/HR277 – Koehler/Butler): Urges Congress to support local food programs in the 2018 Farm Bill. Copies of this resolution will be delivered to all Illinois members of Congress, as well as U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, U.S. House of Representatives Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi…and President Donald Trump!

Status: Identical Resolutions have been introduced in the House and the Senate.

What you can do. We want to get cosponsors in both chambers. Call your legislators and ask them to support Local Food Resolution.