All good things must come to an end.  We had a good run boasting about the slower pace of the legislative session.  Apparently, all it takes to speed things up is a nasty cold snap and suddenly we all decide it’s a much better idea to stay indoors and discuss bills. This week we testified on many bills covering some very diverse topics. 

We talked early in the week about funding mechanisms for the Aquatic Invasive Species prevention program and legislation clarifying fossil ownership.  The week rounded out with discussions on hemp production in Montana, labeling ‘fake meat’ products and implementing a mandatory 24-hour trap check requirement on all trappers in Montana.

HB 32, Revise laws related to aquatic invasive species programs

Sponsored by Rep. Willis Curdy (D) HD 98, Missoula

During the 2017 Legislative Session, lawmakers were called upon to quickly establish and implement an Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) program after water sampling found evidence of aquatic mussel veligers (babies) in Tiber and Canyon Ferry Reservoirs.  Given the time constraints and necessity for quickly implementing a prevention program, investor-owned hydroelectric facilities in Montana picked up the lion’s share of the funding during the first biennium.  HB 32 was written by members of the Environmental Quality Council during the interim and aims to revisit the funding structure and establish a mechanism that is more long term.

The program has a $6 million dollar budget to run inspection stations across the state. There are several opinions on what the funding mechanism should look like; many believe irrigated agriculture needs to be a direct payer in the prevention process.  Irrigators aren’t opposed to being a part of the funding solution; however, there hasn’t been an effective method established for assessing and collecting any money from irrigators.  This concept was researched during the 2017 session and lawmakers and agencies both concluded it would be more costly to identify irrigators than it would actually benefit the AIS program.

This proposal seeks a mix of funding from the state General Fund and a prevention pass on anglers and boaters.  While General Fund dollars fluctuate and aren’t always a guarantee; it also is the most realistic way to capture dollars from all impacted industries. MFBF supported this bill because AIS pose a serious threat to all forms of economy in Montana, not just agriculture.  

SB 176, Allow for establishment of certified hemp plan and program & SB 177, Revise Montana hemp laws

Sponsored by Sen. Tom Jacobson (D) SD 11, Great Falls

Hemp, often mistaken for marijuana, has been used worldwide for its fiber, hurd, and seeds.  While the two Cannabis plants closely resemble one another, hemp is high in fiber and low in active tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.  This distinction, however, wasn’t made in federal law until a few months ago when hemp was removed from the list of controlled substances. 

Prior to passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp could only be grown through highly regulated programs.  Now that the crop is federally recognized as an agricultural commodity, some of the Department’s oversight measures, like fingerprinting growers, are no longer needed.  SB 177 would modify state law to reflect hemp’s new status by removing unnecessary requirements.  SB 176 would establish a certified plan and program to regulate and market hemp in Montana.  The bill also allows for growers to form a commodity advisory committee to assist in research, promotion, and market development. 

The Montana Farm Bureau supported both of these bills.  Montana led the nation in hemp production under the Department of Agriculture’s pilot program last year.  It’s important that Montana remain competitive amidst the new provisions of the 2018 Farm Bill.  We see passage of SB 176 and 177 as an important first step toward that endeavor.

HB 327, Real Meat Act

Sponsored by Rep. Alan Redfield (R) HD 59, Livingston

Fake meat, frankenmeat, petri dish meat, lab grown protein, cell-cultured edible product…no matter what you call this product produced by in vitro cultivation of animal cells, you will not be able to call it “meat” in Montana after this bill passes. The bill makes a few small but very important changes to current law.

First it defines “cell-cultured edible product” as the concept of meat, including but not limited to muscle cells, fat cells, connective tissue, blood, and other components produced via cell culture, rather than from a whole slaughtered animal.  Then it clarifies the definition of meat by stating that the term does not include cell-cultured edible product.  It also ensures that hamburger or ground beef only includes beef that meets the clarified definition of meat. Furthermore, it states in both the Health and Safety Title and the Livestock Title that labeling cell-cultured edible protein as “meat” is misbranding and may not be done.

Passage of HB 132 is important to Montana’s farmers and ranchers because we are proud of the high quality, real meat products we raise. We believe consumers deserve accurate and complete information about the food they consume and this bill will provide just that. Cell-cultured edible products are not yet commercially available, but when they enter the marketplace, Montana needs to be ready to identify them properly. We don’t want our consumers deceived into purchasing a product that may not be what they expect in taste, texture, nutrition or quality.