Small farmers in Utah have a difficult time maintaining a financially successful business due to the numerous regulations and restrictions imposed on the agricultural sector for public health purposes. Many of these laws have been created due to the larger, more industrialized portion of the industry, causing harm to smaller producers and families.
Take small dairy farmers, for example. An individual who owns one or two cows cannot absorb the compliance costs from the heavy regulatory burdens required to sell their milk. This limits options for consumers to buy from locally sourced small farms and hurts the economic potential for farmers. If they want to sell raw milk to their neighbors and friends, they have not been able to legally do so.
With the passing of Senate Bill 108, sponsored by Senator David Hinkins, Utahns will soon have easier access to buy and sell raw milk. SB 108 would have allowed the sale of raw milk at farmers markets and in food trucks, while also lessening the barriers to produce and sell. As you might expect, the bill faced some significant obstacles before it obtained enough legislative support.
Owners of and lobbyists for large dairy farm operations testified against the bill, hoping to defeat it. They argued that the bill was unfair because it didn’t impose the same restrictions on small farmers that they have had to follow for years. They were also concerned that the bill would contribute to the spread of food borne illness, which would reflect badly on the entire dairy industry.
Keep in mind—as is the case with any business—that these business owners have an incentive to limit competition to keep their profits high. And our policy team pointed this out repeatedly when advocating for passage of this bill in the recent legislative session.
Senator Hinkins ended up narrowing the bill to alleviate some of the concerns, removing the portion that would allow raw milk sales at farmers markets. It also added additional precautionary measures, such as coliform testing, to ensure the safety of the product before it was sold.
Although there was some opposition in the Senate, the bill passed through just fine. The added regulations helped the vote, and it had unanimous support within the House. Complying producers can now sell up to 120 gallons of raw milk to the public each month.
Sometimes the solution for helping the sustainability of small business owners is to remove a few of the restrictive laws they face. In this case, that is exactly what needed to be done by the legislature. “Industry” is the state motto, and this legislative action helped make that a real possibility for more Utah entrepreneurs and families.