By Harvey Breaux | IdahoReporter.com
Small food producers would face myriad new regulations under a plan approved by the House Health and Welfare Committee Wednesday.
The measure would require anyone selling food made in their house to register with the government, pass a food safety test and create food labels and report those to a government website.
It would also cap the amount people could make by selling foods at $30,000 per year. Sellers also wouldn’t be able to ship foods out of state.
The plan’s sponsor, Rep. Clark Kauffman, R-Filer, argued his legislation would provide a clean, statewide food framework, opposed to the patchwork system he believes exists in Idaho’s cities and counties now.
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Kauffman also told colleagues the legislation would create protections for consumers by helping people better track the source of their foods.
"My vision for this was for it to be something simple,” Kauffman said. “Take an online food safety exam, register online, and put your label online. These are just for tracing; no one will be reviewing them."
Upon questioning from Rep. Paul Romrell, R-St. Anthony, Kauffman admitted the state couldn’t actually block producers from earning more than $30,000 a year.
"It would simply be based around the honor system,” the Filer Republican said.
Patrick Gussel, Food Protection Program Manager for the Department of Health and Welfare, opposed the measure.
"The Idaho food protection program has allowed for many years the direct sales of cottage food to consumers with no regulations,” he told lawmakers.
He argued the bill would require his agency to create another subdivision beneath it in order to enforce the regulations. "Neighboring states have had to dedicate one to three people to overseeing their cottage food programs," he explained.
Gussel also warned the bill wouldn’t do that much to protect consumers.
“It’s based on the honor system,” he said. “All neighboring states have told me that they’ve seen only a few registrants per year.”
Committee chair Fred Wood, a Republican from Burley, offered a cogent thought. “We’re trying to regulate something that works just fine, or that’s what it appears to be,” he said.
Wayne Hoffman, president of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, said there’s an easier fix to provide uniformity for small food producers. "If you're looking to clarify that home cottage kitchens are not regulated, write a bill that says home cottage kitchens are not regulated,” Hoffman said.
“This bill puts countless food producers under the thumb of the government.”
A handful of business owners supported the measure, endorsing the statewide regulatory framework it would create. “In Boise, you aren't allowed to make any product out of the home kitchen,” one business owner said. “In Sun Valley, you can make whatever you want in your kitchen.”
Rep. Eric Redman, R-Athol, rejected the bill, complaining it’s regulation for the sake of regulation and would fix a problem that doesn’t exist.
Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, expressed at least some shock the state agency would reject the additional rules.
"This bill is really a tough one for me,” Rusche said. “It was a surprise to hear from the Department of Health and Welfare they would not want to expand protections for Idaho citizens. It seems to me like the right thing to do would be a simple exemption rather than setting up a registry."
The rotund Rusche, in a moment of self-deprecation, added: "I would hate to stifle creativity in the home kitchen. Look at me, I appreciate creativity in the home kitchen."
The measure cleared the committee and will move on to the House floor. Only Redman dissented on the panel’s vote.
Note: The Idaho Freedom Foundation publishes IdahoReporter.com.