A bill gaining momentum at the legislature would allow Montanans to sell food from their homes directly to consumers without any government oversight. It would also legalize the direct sale of raw milk.

The bill’s supporters say the government has no business telling people what food they can buy, but opponents say a 2015 law that opened up licensure for homemade food enterprises already encourages the sale of local foods while also protecting consumers. 

Senate Bill 199, or the Montana Local Food Choice Act, includes a section that would make it possible for owners of small dairy herds to sell unpasteurized milk, a proposal that drew its own set of opponents with concerns about the risk of foodborne illness.  

Sen. Greg Hertz, R-Polson presented the bill to the House Human Services Committee on March 17. 

“I’m not asking for any government stimulus,” Hertz said. “I’m not asking for any grants. I’m not asking for any credits. I’m just asking the government to get out of our way.” 

SB 199 passed the Senate 31-18 mostly along party lines on March 1. Missoula Senator Shane Morigeau was the only Democrat to vote in favor of the bill, which would exempt homemade food producers from needing what’s called a “cottage food” license to sell their product. It would also exempt them from inspections unless there is an outbreak of foodborne illness.

The only things not up for sale under the bill are meat and meat products, which still need to be processed in a federally licensed and inspected facility. 

The bill says transactions -- either for raw milk or homemade food -- can only happen face-to-face, and homemade food can’t be sent to retailers or restaurants. However, there is nothing in the bill that would stop a person purchasing homemade food for a “traditional community social event,” such as a wedding, funeral or potluck.

Opponents at the bill’s hearing said the 2015 Cottage Food Act already gives home cooks plenty of leeway to sell their product. 

The Cottage Food Act allows people to sell homemade food as long as it follows certain labeling restrictions. Cottage food producers need to label their food with any allergens it may contain and a list of ingredients in order by weight. It also has to include the address of the producer. 

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