JEFFERSON CITY — Think twice before you grab that margarine from the grocery store shelf. You're purchasing an illegal substance.
Because of several provisions passed starting in the late 1800s, the sale of certain types of imitation butter was banned from being sold in Missouri stores.
But anyone who has been to the grocery store this century knows this law has been all but ignored as tubs of Brummel & Brown, Fleischmann's and Country Crock glisten under fluorescent lights.
For the second year in a row, Rep. Sara Lampe, R-Springfield, has introduced a bill to repeal the previous legislation, which, Lampe said, is out of date and was written at a time when Missouri's dairy industry felt threatened by the substitute.
Lampe said inspiration for the bill came after she sent a letter to constituents asking what type of laws they wanted to see.
"Overwhelmingly, the response was, 'We have too many laws. We'd like to see you take some off the books,'" Lampe said.
Lampe said when she came across the butter law, she thought it had served its time and was ready to be removed.
"But it takes a law to remove a law," Lampe said.
The current law makes possible a fine of anywhere from $50 to $100 for anyone caught selling yellow margarine.
"We called the Department of Agriculture and asked if they'd enforced it anytime recently, and they said absolutely not," Lampe said. "Most people there didn't even know it was on the books."
Rick Johnson, the dairy manager of the Hy-Vee in Jefferson City, said two-thirds of their butter section is actually margarine, and nobody has raised any questions.
The margarine law was passed decades ago as an effort to protect the dairy industry from non-dairy competition. Although repeal of the law would seem to be noncontroversial, the issue made no progress in the House in the 2009 legislative session.