Originally Published: August 11, 2007 10:30 p.m.
PRESCOTT VALLEY - A vendor of frozen natural beef is seeking to change a state law that requires him to obtain a permit to sell the beef at farmers markets.
Tom Reilly, an architect and former Prescott city councilman who sells his beef at the Prescott Farmers Market, said that he considers unfair a state law that exempts all other meat, dairy and vegetable products at farmers markets from paying government fees and taxes.
"I am not trying to change the law to make it easier to sell bad beef," said Reilly, who lives in Paulden.
The state law exempts those other products from county health department oversight, explained Brian Suppala, program manager for environmental health for Yavapai County Community Health Services.
He said non-exempt vendors in the county must obtain special events permits for each farmers market where they sell their products, with the permits good for four months.
"We have to inspect foods that require a lot of handling or temperature action," Suppala said.
However, Reilly said the county health workers have never inspected beef, adding that Arizona Department of Agriculture staff inspect his beef at a meatpacking plant in Perksinsville. "And the health department is not responsible for inspecting our beef," Reilly said. "They are responsible for making sure that I am selling it correctly with the inspection stickers, cooking instructions, and that it is kept in a frozen state."
Suppala said he would prefer that Reilly call Community Health Services instead of responding in the press.
Health workers told Reilly Aug. 2 at the Prescott Valley Farmers Market that he needed a separate permit to sell beef there, Reilly said. He said he has sold beef for a few years at the Prescott Farmers Market.
Reilly said health officials explained that they would charge him $137 for the permit because he was selling a potentially "hazardous" perishable product at the Prescott Valley Farmers Market, which debuted July 19. He said he sells prepackaged frozen hamburger, roast beef and steaks directly to consumers, and maintains a freezer on the back of his truck and brings two coolers to his stand.
While disagreeing with the requirement, Reilly said he will abide by it.
He also stressed that he will try to change the state law to enable him to sell directly to the consumer at farmers markets without having to pay government fees, including the health permit.
Reilly said state Reps. Andy Tobin, R-Paulden, and Lucy Mason, R-Prescott, and the Arizona Cattle Growers' Association support his cause. Both Tobin and Mason said they will support legislative remedies. "If we need to make a fix in the next (legislative) session, I will be happy to carry it," Tobin said. Mason said, "I know Tom Reilly, and I know what he is doing, and I promised to help him."
Mason, who chairs the Water and Agriculture Committee in the House of Representatives, said she will back legislation on Reilly's behalf if it does not conflict with any federal laws, which supercede state laws.
Reilly said that he also enjoys support from vendors at the Prescott Valley Farmers Market, which takes place from 4 to 8 p.m. Thursdays on the parking lot of M&I Bank.
"I don't want to get into this (debate) at all, but I would like to see beef added to the list" of exempt products, Jennifer Chandler, market manager in both Prescott and Prescott Valley, said. "I feel that this should be an exempt product out of fairness."
She said county health officials regularly attend the farmers markets to make sure vendors have the appropriate permits.
"We like the health department coming," Chandler said. "It makes our customers know we are providing high quality."
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