Reinventing the Programmatic and Legal Basis of Food Safety: The Wyoming Experience

By Higgins, Chuck; Leis, Laurie | Journal of Environmental Health, October 2001 | Go to article overview

Reinventing the Programmatic and Legal Basis of Food Safety: The Wyoming Experience


Higgins, Chuck, Leis, Laurie, Journal of Environmental Health


Abstract

On March 13, 2000, the governor of Wyoming signed into law a comprehensive farm-to-table food safety statute, The new law collected all food safety requirements into a single statute and consolidated food inspection activities in the Wyoming Department of Agriculture. A sweeping reform of state food safety programs eliminated the cumbersome patchwork of laws that legislators had been amending for a century. To accomplish this formidable task, Governor Jim Geringer had authorized the formation of the Wyoming Foad Safety Task Force in 1991. The task force comprised local, state, and federal government agencies; legislators; the University of Wyoming; and segments of private industry Using a strategic-planning process to build consensus, the task force developed a new system that was unanimously supported. This unified approach contributed to the success of the legislative effort.

Introduction

Wyoming's first food safety legislation, the Wyoming Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, was passed in 1911. Other food safety statutes followed, and all have been amended through what can best be described as a cutand-paste approach. None of these efforts were much more than additions of new commodities to a growing list of foods in which the state had declared an interest. This patchwork of laws, sewn together in a quilt of fragmented jurisdictions and administrative approaches, grew increasingly more cumbersome over time.

By 1997, changes in the food program had long outrun the structure of state statutes, and the food safety program found itself in danger of acting outside the authority and instructions of the legislature as dictated in the existing state laws, A decision was made by the director of the Wyoming Department of Agriculture (WDA) to take on the once-in-a-century task of starting over. In October 1997, Governor Jim Geringer authorized the formation of the Wyoming Food Safety Task Force.

The task force finished its work in August of 1999, and on March 9, 2000, the Wyoming legislature passed the centerpiece of the task force's proposal for a new food safety system. Known as the Wyoming Food Safety Act of 2000, this landmark legislation was signed by the governor on March 13, 2000, at the state capitol in Cheyenne. This article presents the major accomplishments of the task force and describes the legislative process.

The Wyoming Food Safety Task Force

Several elements were critical to the success of this task force. First was acceptance of risk, because the group was being asked to design a statewide food safety system from scratch, disregarding how it may have been structured in the past. Most organizations are understandably reluctant to undertake this kind of sweeping change, not knowing the outcome or the direction of such an openended charge. The unpredictability of the outcome was even greater since the group undertaking the discussion included so many participants from outside the food safety program. In this case, however, WDA judged that programmatic experiments already undertaken had fueled an operational shift beyond the old statutory model and that a new foundation was required.

The second critical element was broad representation, which meant that stakeholders should be included in the process. Therefore, the task force comprised local, state, and federal government agencies; legislators; the University of Wyoming; and several segments of private industry. In addition, those known to endorse as well as those known to object to new directions were purposely brought into the effort.

Once the group's composition was decided, the director of WDA gave a clear but empowering charge:

1. Using consensus methods, decide what the state food safety program outcomes should be.

2. Describe how we would go about achieving this: How do we best ensure that the foods produced and/or prepared in Wyoming are as safe as they possibly can be? …

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