Montana Law Deregulating Local Food Producers Is Under Legal Attack
Raise your hand if you enjoy eating food products purchased from local farmers and other boutique operations?
Well, if you happen to live in Montana, there is at least one person trying to make it harder for you to buy from small businesses in your community. Last month, I wrote about a lawsuit filed against the Local Food Choice Act, which stripped onerous regulations imposed on small, local food operations.
The Local Food Choice Act deregulates certain homemade food producers by exempting them from onerous food licensure, certification, packaging, labeling, and inspection regulations. It also waived other standards and requirements. The purpose of the act is to encourage the sale and consumption of homemade food and products by removing the obstacles caused by excessive mandates. It would also promote the expansion of agricultural sales from ranchers, farms, and home-based producers and make it easier for consumers to procure them.
Now, the law is facing a lawsuit filed by Jeffrey P. Havens, a former government employee.
Montana’s First Judicial District Court is being asked to review the state Legislature’s “Food Freedom” bills enacted in 2021 and 2023. The legislation is known as the “Montana Local Food Choice Act.”
The legal action challenging the law was brought by Helena, MT, resident Jeffrey P. Havens, who, from 2012 to 2022, was Montana’s commercial food safety officer. He is currently a state-licensed biology science teacher
Havens has filed a 429-page pro se lawsuit, naming Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte and the state’s other top officials as defendants.
Havens’ lawsuit argues that the act runs afoul of three separate articles of the Montana Constitution. These include issues related to equal protection, separation of subjects, and local government powers. The plaintiff contends that the legislation undermines consumer protections, mismanages the distinction between local and interstate commerce, and usurps local government authority to ensure their own food safety standards. He expresses concerns about potential public health risks.
There are several problems with Havenns’ challenge to the law. He insists that it undermines consumer protections and local government authority. Yet, the law actually empowers small-scale entrepreneurs and promotes the growth of local economies by removing the government as an obstacle.
By allowing homemade food producers to operate their enterprises more efficiently, they can revitalize local agricultural communities, which will spur economic growth.
Moreover, most of the regulations imposed on these local operations are unnecessary and impotent when it comes to keeping people safe. It ignores the reality that these businesses have a vested interest in ensuring that their products are not harmful — they won’t make any money if they make people sick, right?
Also, the restrictions Havens wants to place on these small businesses only raise the costs on consumers who wish to purchase these products. The financial investment one must make to comply with the regulations is considerable in most cases. It is simply another way to benefit larger corporations who have the capital to keep up with the restrictions.
Another important factor is the growing consumer sentiment that one should know where their food is coming from. In an age in which transparency is lacking, more people seek to understand how and where their food products are being manufactured and sold. This allows them to make informed choices about what they are putting in their bodies.
To sum it all up, the lawsuit against Montana’s Local Food Choice Act is misguided. It is framed as an effort to protect consumer safety and local government authority. Yet, putting even more restrictions on the backs of these small businesses will not only fail to keep people safe, it will stifle growth. In reality, imposing more regulations on these operations will do far more harm than good, just like most government interventions.
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