Food freedom hard to come by in Mississippi

By Aaron Rice
February 13, 2020

A bill banning the limited sale of goat milk that is moving through the state House is symbolic of the state’s larger resistance to food freedom. 

Thirteen states allow the sale of raw milk in retail stores, ranging from states we generally associate with liberty like Arizona and Idaho, to states that are known for their regulatory burdens like California and Connecticut. Seventeen states allow sales of raw milk on the farm on which its produced. An additional eight states allow raw milk to be obtained through cow shares only.

Mississippi is part of the group of three states that only allow raw goat milk, but not raw cow milk. Bills to allow the sale of raw cow milk have regularly been introduced, but they've always been killed in committee without a vote.

This year, we appear headed in the opposite direction, with pending legislation restricting freedom, not expanding it.

Another bill pending in the legislature is a cottage food expansion. Currently, cottage food operators who have annual gross sales of less than $20,000 are given the freedom to sell goodies they bake in their own home, without the government inspecting their kitchen or providing a certificate. They are, however, prohibited from advertising those goodies online. The Department of Health has been known to send cease and desist letters to individuals posting pictures of their creations on Facebook and Instagram. 

House Bill 326 will expand the cap to $35,000 and remove the internet prohibition. It has passed the House and is headed to the Senate. The same place it died last year. This would be a good start, but all a cap does is place a limitation on your ability to earn a living. Twenty-eight states, including neighboring Arkansas and Tennessee, have no cap. 

Mississippi also maintains a prohibition on selling online to buyers within state limits and to selling through retail outlets like grocery stores. 

Mississippi Department of Agriculture regulations prohibit all but direct farm-to-consumer sales by small-scale poultry producers. This is contrary to Mississippi law, which has adopted a federal exemption that allows small producers to sell to grocery stores, restaurants, hotels, hospitals, and other institutions.

In conformity with federal law, Mississippi law technically incorporates the federal 20,000 bird exemption, which allows poultry producers who raise fewer than 20,000 birds a calendar year to sell these birds without being subject to daily inspection and other facility requirements. MDAC regulations, however, do not recognize this mandated exemption in any meaningful way.

This means that Mississippi is forcing small poultry producers to follow federal requirements that were drafted with large-scale producers in mind. These requirements are onerous and expensive and address the unique problems created by large-scale poultry production. It is not appropriate to subject small producers to these requirements, which is why federal law has always allowed for a small producer (20,000 bird) exemption.

Unlike other states that recognize the federal 20,000 bird exemption, Mississippi prohibits all but direct farm-to-consumer sales for small farmers. This completely undermines the purpose of the exemption. Mississippi agricultural regulations ban small producers from selling to restaurants, grocery stores, hotels, schools and hospitals. As a result, small poultry producers are denied access to distribution channels currently open to large producers.

Mississippi has a regulatory problem that extends to various industries. All too often, the default response by lawmakers is to agree to protect the established interests rather than letting the market choose the winners and losers. 

Perhaps 2020 will be different.


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