Washington needs to stop micromanaging

Posted 11/27/20

Wyoming’s Food Freedom Act exemplifies the values of this great state, namely our commitment to letting businesses do business. 

While almost all states have laws that permit residents …

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Washington needs to stop micromanaging


Wyoming’s Food Freedom Act exemplifies the values of this great state, namely our commitment to letting businesses do business. 

While almost all states have laws that permit residents to sell non-perishable foods they make at home, such as pies, jams, and breads, Wyoming’s law lets its citizens sell perishable items as well. All the seller needs to do is label the product as an unregulated homemade food — a sort of buyer’s risk warning. 

This, however, does not apply to meat. Any meat sold retail has to have a stamp of approval from the USDA or the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, and a state’s regulations have to be “at least equal to” the federal requirements. 

Animals can be processed under a custom exemption, which allows people to take an animal they personally own and pay a processor to slaughter it. The processor can provide the service, but the meat goes directly to the processed animal’s owner and can’t be sold. 

The problem is that many of us meat lovers don’t have freezers that can hold hundreds of pounds of meat. 

In March, the Legislature passed an amendment to the Food Freedom Act that allows people to buy shares of an animal, which can then be processed under the custom exemption. So, theoretically, 10 beef connoisseurs can go in on a cow together, and they each go home with one-tenth of the meat after processing.

It’s a pretty innovative means by which people can buy animals directly from Wyoming ranchers and have it processed locally without having to buy the whole animal.

True to its nature, though, the federal government is trying to put the brakes on the animal shares program. In May, the USDA wrote Doug Miyamoto, director of the state Department of Agriculture, to argue that the custom exemption requires an “exact correspondence between the individuals owning a particular animal prior to slaughter and the individuals receiving any/all products derived from the animal.” The complaint says the animal share amendment somehow violates this rule. 

Further, the feds argue, the Food Freedom Act doesn’t meet the standards of sanitation and safety as laid out in federal law regulating the slaughter of animals. 

Miyamoto responded to the complaint by explaining that Wyoming’s animal share amendment doesn’t change Wyoming’s regulations involved with the state-inspected slaughter of animals, which are, as they’ve always been, “at least equal to” the federal regulations. 

The USDA responded to Miyamoto by reiterating its complaint and insisting that the amendment created a new exemption that is not contemplated by federal law. 

In a second response, Miyamoto stressed that nothing in the animal shares amendment allows for the sale of any meat products derived from animals that are owned in shares. Processing facilities are regulated as they’ve always been. The only thing the amendment to the Food Freedom Act does is allow more than one person to buy a share of an animal. 

Federal regulations governing the processing of meat were intended to keep consumers safe, but like with any well-intentioned federal action, the regulations have unintended consequences. 

Economies of scale made it far more profitable for large conglomerates to process meat, and as a result, four companies handle 80% of the processing in this country. If a Wyoming producer wants to sell premium beef to a niche market, these giant factories can’t do that. The regulations create difficult barriers to entry for smaller processors, and as such, Wyoming has very little local slaughtering capacity. So, for the most part, Wyoming producers have to take whatever price the large packers offer. 

The animal shares amendment made a very small change, and imperfect as it may be, it allowed ranchers a more direct route to the consumer, while still ensuring plenty of oversight of the slaughtering process. 

Bureaucracy is notoriously risk-averse because rule makers don’t bear the cost of implementing the rules or suffer the impacts of their unintended consequences. Under the thumb of the federal government, it’s hard to find even the slightest wiggle room, and Washington bureaucrats are loath to grant any. 

It’s no wonder Wyominites prefer just to govern themselves.