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Missouri Lawmaker to Propose Decriminalizing Margarine

A southwest Missouri lawmaker wants to end a state ban on yellow margarine that hasn't been enforced in years.

Rep. Sara Lampe said Tuesday she plans to file legislation repealing the state's ban on yellow-tinted imitation butter and the other restrictions imposed on the sale, possession or shipment of substitute sandwich spread that is a different hue.

Most of Missouri's butter restrictions date to 1895 and they were last amended in 1939. Although the state no longer enforces its restrictions on imitation butter, the penalties for dealers in contraband dairy product still apply: up to a month in jail and a $100 fine for first-time butter offenders and six months in jail and a $500 fine for repeat offenders.

Enforcement of the law falls to the Agriculture Department, and officials there didn't know when someone was last prosecuted under it. Case records from the late 19th and early 20th century show that Missouri courts upheld the constitutionality of the restrictions in several appeals.

Agriculture Department spokeswoman Misti Preston said it's likely that the Legislature restricted margarine and other imitation butter products to protect Missouri's dairy industry, which was a key business for the state in the early 20th century.

Lampe, D-Springfield, said she intends to keep on the books the existing definition for imitation butter and the prohibition against selling the substitute as real butter. Eliminating those provisions could allow for products to be advertised as butter when they are not, she said.

The 2009 legislative session starts in January, and it is common for lawmakers to announce plans for new laws and constitutional amendments in the weeks before it starts. It's less often that a legislator suggests removing a law that already exists.

"There are things in your closet that you don't wear, and it's important to clean that out so that you know what's there and know what's necessary," Lampe said.

The number of state laws can be intimidating, she said, so it makes sense to pare them down where possible. She said she plans to direct her staff to look for other laws that could be stripped.

Missouri's statutes are broken into more than 700 chapters, contained within 15 volumes and four supplements. The indexes make up an additional six volumes. The butter law is only a tiny portion of a single chapter.

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