Florida Senate Bill 1164 and the accompanying House Bill 1279 are both created and pushed by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (“FDACS”). The bills put forward a seemingly pro-farmer tax exemption program called the “tax exempt agricultural materials” (or “TEAM”). However, the real purpose of the bills is the further erosion of smaller, independent and homestead farmers.
The “TEAM” tax exemption can only be applied to properties that have been classified as agricultural by the county tax assessor. For families who live on their farm, in order to be classified as agricultural, they must give up their homestead classification which under Florida law not only has a higher property tax credit, but also provides certain privileges and rights superior to other types of property ownership. The FDACS knows this and is deliberately punishing family operated farms.
Using the Trojan horse of TEAM as well as requiring state agencies, universities, and other state institutions and their contractors to purchase food commodities grown or produced in Florida by 2025, the two Bills begin a ruthless onslaught towards all family farms.
First, the definition of “food establishment” is to be amended to include “storing” food. While this may seem innocuous an amendment at first, understand what this actually means. Under Florida law today, a farmer can take his animals to be processed at a USDA inspected facility and, after the meat is processed, vacuum sealed, and frozen, the farmer could store the product at his home and conduct direct sales of that product from his home via the Internet without further licensing requirements, provided the product remains frozen and there is no food preparation (e.g. pork belly could not be cured into bacon) and that the farmer does not operate a second sale location (e.g. a farmer could not do home sales and go to a farmer’s market without having a food establishment license). Now, that revenue stream is completely cut off by these Bills.
To apply for a food establishment license, not only are there fees and training involved, but a specific professional kitchen containing potable water and a three-chamber sink must be utilized. Under Florida law, you cannot have this professional kitchen attached to a residential property. A homestead farmer would be forced to construct a building off their own homestead property or pay exorbitant fees to rent a professional kitchen (if any are available in their area) in order to begin to comply.
The Bills also deliberately muddy the water for raw milk producers. The Bills enables FDACS to conduct inspections and collect samples for testing from “all facilities engaged in the production, processing, holder, or transfer of milk and milk products.” It further requires permitting for “all facilities engaged in the production, processing, holding, or transfer of milk and milk products in this state” in order to operate. The current language in the statute only required permitting for “Grade ‘A’ milk plants,” “manufacturing milk plants,” “milk producers,” “milk haulers,” “milk hauling services,” “washing station operators,” “milk plant operators,” “milk distributors,” and other individuals that were all clearly defined in the statute. FDACS deliberately chose to not use defined terms within the existing statute or reference newly created defined terms in order to give itself wide sweeping powers to regulate everyone involved in dairy production, including raw milk producers. While the Bills do leave in the permitting exemption for “milk producers who transport milk or milk products only from their own dairy farms,” that does not alleviate the inspection and sample collecting powers FDACS will now have. Further, if a raw milk producer has anyone other than themselves transport raw milk (even just down the road to the local farmer’s market), the permitting exemption would no longer apply.
Finally, both Bills would give FDACS the power for its non-law enforcement employees to use drones “for the purposes of managing and eradicating plant or animal diseases.” This would enable FDACS to violate a family farmer’s 4th Amendment and, under the Florida constitution, Section 12 rights to unreasonable searches and seizures. Last year saw an unprecedented destruction of poultry throughout the nation for “avian flu,” often times detected by the same faulty PCR tests that often gave false-positives for COVID-19 cases. It is clear that FDACS intends to follow the rest of the nation and provide itself with the unprecedented authority to unlawfully search small, family farms and eradicate their poultry.