On September 21st, agents of the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), who refused to identify themselves to some of the people present, appeared at a Wyoming farmers market to inspect vendors and forced one to dispose of food prepared for sale at the market. The government agents felt so intimidated that they summoned local police, yet failed to provide them with proper identification and contact information.
The USDA’s actions are puzzling given that, since the Wyoming Food Freedom Act passed, there have been no reported or documented increases in food borne illnesses or other problems in the state on account of it (in spite of dire warnings and predictions to the contrary). What has happened is an explosion in small-scale, artisanal, and home/farm-based businesses among the people of Wyoming, a boon to growers and markets, and an example for the rest of the nation as to what a decentralized, self-regulated local food system can do to improve food quality, safety, and affordability around the nation, while helping to rebuild communities and economies at the local and state levels.
At least, until Tuesday, September 21st, that is what the Food Freedom Act was. Three suspected USDA agents showed up at the farmers market in Gillette, Wyoming and harassed vendors operating under the Wyoming Food Freedom Act. The vendors in question had produced foods in accordance with the Act and were operating solely in the state of Wyoming.
“We had no clue that they were coming. They didn’t notify any of our state agents,” said Representative Tyler Lindholm. “These were products sold from Wyoming vendors to Wyoming people. In my opinion the FSIS didn’t have the authority to inspect that food because it didn’t involve interstate commerce.” He went on to remark about the actions of the agents. “Of course they haven’t read the Wyoming Food Freedom Act. They have to protect us from chicken chili.”
In a follow-up phone call I had with Representative Lindholm, he continued. “The biggest part of this from a policy standpoint is that the Wyoming Food Freedom Act was written with input from FSIS. We asked if there would be any issues with federal law, and they replied back stating no.” When asked if the USDA was now moving away from respecting the Wyoming Food Freedom Act, Tyler stated that they still have no word. Regardless, Tyler also emphasized that many elected officials and people in Wyoming are not going to back down on their right to food and the Food Freedom Act. Instead, they see the Act as a stepping stone to further expansion and freedom. “The Wyoming Food Freedom Act has opened up doors…and caused an explosion in our economy across the state. None of us plan to move away or back down from that.”
The USDA’s actions now make the Food Freedom Act far more than just a simple state bill intended to help Wyoming’s communities and citizens thrive. It is a test case for how far the federal government will go to stomp out food freedom in the individual states, and how far states and their communities will go to protect their freedoms and their folk from government run amok. More details hopefully will follow, including efforts by activists and elected officials in Wyoming to get to the bottom of what happened and may continue to happen.
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