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Opinion: ‘Cottage foods’ bill a meddling, muddled monster

Opinion: ‘Cottage foods’ bill a meddling, muddled monster

Wayne Hoffman
March 6, 2015

If you’ve ever baked goodies for sale at a school event or charity auction, or if you have ever sold homemade food at a farmers’ market, some lawmakers want you and your so-called “cottage foods” to be regulated.

And don’t for a minute think that the “conservative Idaho Legislature” of lore is going to stop this disaster of a proposal from advancing; the bill, the work product of Republican Rep. Clark Kauffman, a farmer from Filer, cleared the House Health and Welfare Committee last Wednesday on a near-unanimous vote. In fairness, three committee members were out of the room at the time. Only freshman GOP Rep. Eric Redman of Spirit Lake saw this for the meddling muddled monster that it is.

 Caldwell Rep. Brandon Hixon cheered House Bill 187 the loudest telling Kauffman “this is a good bill” before asking Kauffman why the measure restricts home kitchens from selling their cottage food products out of state. Kauffman didn’t know the answer, but that apparently didn’t diminish the bill’s goodness as far as Hixon was concerned.

The bill also would prohibit homemade food products from being sold to retail stores and restaurants. Remaining venues, like farmers’ markets, roadside stands and community events are OK, but all the products would have to follow specific government-imposed labeling requirements and every home kitchen would have to, according to the bill, “register with the regulatory authority prior to producing and selling cottage foods” and “hold a valid food handler’s permit specific to the cottage food industry.”

Furthermore, don’t you dare try to make too much money from selling your items; the state government would cap sales at $30,000.

Supporters of the bill said the measure was brought forward to address a “gray” area of state law, that home kitchens and their products may be subject to licensing and inspection, and that this bill gets rid of the ambiguity without the requirement that home kitchens fall under the traditional framework of commercial kitchens.

This bill grows government so much that even the biggest agency in all of Idaho state government–the Department of Health and Welfare–advised the committee against passage.
Health and Welfare’s Patrick Guzzle said home kitchens are presently not being inspected; they haven’t been for at least the last couple of decades, he said.

Guzzle’s comments appeared to surprise and frustrate freshman GOP Rep. Caroline Troy, Genesee, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, who sat silently for several awkward seconds when it came her turn to vote. She voted yes, but later in the day she told constituents she was withdrawing her support.
Some cottage food producers told the committee they are being subjected to government regulation and that the rules vary from region to region within Idaho. Kauffman defended his approach saying such a simple bill wouldn’t get through the Legislature.

Since well before the Idaho Legislature was a wisp in the eye of Abraham Lincoln, Idahoans have prepared wholesome, healthy, safe foods in their kitchens. This still occurs today, largely without incident in many of Idaho’s 580,000 households, often three or more times a day, for home consumption and for sale in stores, restaurants, at bake sales, auctions and farmers’ markets.

If state regulators really are harassing cottage food preparers, the Legislature should pass a simple bill that keeps the government out of our home kitchens. If lawmakers can’t manage to do that, or if they pass a bill as odious as House Bill 187, they’ll have proven they really do worship at the altar of Big Government.

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