JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – A state legislator wants to dump a 19th-century law banning the sale of yellow margarine, though it's been years since any violator was ordered to spread 'em.
Rep. Sara Lampe said Tuesday she plans to file legislation repealing the law when the 2009 legislative session starts in January.
Most of Missouri's restrictions on imitation butter date to 1895, and they were last amended in 1939. Although the state no longer enforces them, the penalties could still make dealers in contraband dairy product toast: up to a month in jail and a $100 fine for first-time offenders and six months in jail and a $500 fine for repeat offenders.
Enforcement of the law falls to the state 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.
According to the National Association of Margarine Manufacturers, by 1902, 32 states home to 80 percent of Americans had restrictions on the color of imitation margarine. Congress in 1886 passed a federal tax on the spread by that was repealed by President Harry S. Truman in 1950.
Richard Cristol, the president of the Washington-based margarine trade group, said Tuesday that it's likely several states still have margarine restrictions on the books, though he's not aware of any actually enforcing them.
Lampe, D-Springfield, said she intends to keep on the books Missouri's 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.
Lampe said she decided to look for a law that could be removed after asking constituents' ideas on new legislation.
"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.