Food Freedom

Deregulation of Local Foods Is a Winning Idea That's Spreading

New bills in Montana and California would make it easier for small food entrepreneurs to thrive and for consumers to have more choices.

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bake sale
Verena Matthew / Dreamstime.com

Newly proposed legislation in Montana and California could loosen restrictions on millions of small food entrepreneurs in those states.

In Montana, the Local Food Choice Act would "allow for the sale and consumption of homemade food and food products and… encourage the expansion of agricultural sales by ranches, farms, and home-based producers" in the state.

The law would exempt those who make and sell such foods directly to consumers from mandatory licensing, permitting, packaging, labeling, inspection, and other requirements. The law doesn't exempt those who don't sell food directly to consumers—as in the case of those who sell to restaurants or grocers—or to those who sell food across state lines.

"Eating what we choose should never be a crime," said State Rep. Greg Hertz (R), as he introduced the bill last month. Indeed, Hertz's bill would effectively legalize in Montana what is now a crime there and in almost every state: the act of selling something as basic as homemade cheese dip or pickles to your neighbor.

Hertz's Local Food Choice Act is fashioned after Wyoming's groundbreaking Food Freedom Act, first-in-the-nation legislation passed two years ago that deregulated many direct-to-consumer food sales within the state. As I detailed here, Colorado passed a similar law last year. Other states have also considered similar measures.

In California, a bill introduced this week by Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia (D), the Homemade Food Operations Act, "would allow home cooks to sell hot, prepared foods directly to customers."

The California bill isn't as ambitious as those adopted in Wyoming and Colorado or that proposed in Montana—it still contains requirements for sanitation, training, and permitting—but it's a giant leap in the right direction.

"Many of my constituents have expressed their concerns and frustrations trying to work in compliance with the existing, overly complicated cottage food laws," said Assemblyman Garcia in a statement announcing the bill, referencing the state's overly restrictive cottage food laws.

Not surprisingly, all this talk of deregulating local food sales has some people nervous. State and local health officials in Montana, for example, have spoken out against the state bill, claiming it could lead to a rise in cases of foodborne illness.

"Every state that looks at setting their local food economy free inevitably finds food police lining up with statistics on how freedom of choice is a danger," said Wyoming State Rep. Lindholm (R), who sponsored the Food Freedom Act in his state, in an email to me this week. "These individuals, bureaucrats, and industry associations all espouse their merits as to being defenders of ignorant consumers that cannot be trusted to make their own decisions as to what is best for their family."

I asked Lindholm if there's been any uptick in foodborne illnesses in Wyoming since the law's passage.

"Wyoming has seen the exact opposite that these do gooders predict," Lindholm tells me. "Wyoming[']s local food options have exploded and we still have had 0 foodborne illness outbreaks due to this Act passing into law."

I've chuckled while hearing more than one overly cautious eater tell me they'd never eat food that was prepared in an uninspected home kitchen. Everyone should be free to avoid such food if they want, of course. But keep in mind that your own home kitchen isn't inspected. Your parents' kitchen and your grandparents' kitchen weren't inspected, either. Your friends' and relatives' kitchens aren't inspected. The baked goods you took to school to sell to other kids as part of a bake sale (or that you send with your own kids to school today) haven't earned any government seal of approval.

Avoiding all foods save for those prepared in an inspected kitchen means dining out at every meal or not eating at all. If one or both of these are your choice, then so be it. But Montana and California have moved to allow others to exercise their own choices. And I hope they succeed.

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  1. “Eating what we choose should never be a crime,” said State Rep. Greg Hertz (R), as he introduced the bill last month.

    Let’s see, I’ll take a dozen of the pot brownies, a sheet of the blotter acid, a jug of the mushroom tea, and give me a half-dozen of the peyote buttons.

    1. It is kinda funny how most people agree with Hertz statement but as soon as you mention pot brownies it completely changes.

  2. In Montana, the Local Food Choice Act would “allow for the sale and consumption of homemade food and food products and… encourage the expansion of agricultural sales by ranches, farms, and home-based producers” in the state.

    That part after the ellipsis could give me pause.

    1. You’re supposed to pause at the ellipsis, Fisty. Not after.

    2. Well, obviously it’s not meant to be taken literally. It refers to any manufacturer of dairy products.

      1. Why would dairy products be any different than any other?

    3. Thank god it allows for the consumption of homemade food. I was afraid I’d get pretty damn hungry, otherwise.

  3. I hope these bills allow local governments – cities and counties – to impose onerous restrictions on food sales. It would be unfair for the state legislature to interfere with local self-government. As Scott Shackford said last year:

    “Larger governments telling local government what kinds of laws they can pass is bad, and I say that regardless of whether I support whatever law. If there is a civil liberty that is being violated, it needs to be tackled under a constitution or charter and then pushed to a court to rule upon. Why on earth should politicians outside of [a local community] have veto power over the laws of that city?”

    So the state legislature should allow local government to adopt burdensome regulations, and the only way to challenge these regulation would be to file a lawsuit based on “a constitution or charter” – because presumably constitutions and charters weren’t adopted by politicians outside of local communities.

    /sarc

    1. Question, do you think local governments have more or less or equal powers as states when it comes to regulations and meddling?

      I think they have same or less but I know some people argue that local governments have broader governing rules.

  4. Welcome to New Somalia. 🙂

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  5. You know who else wanted more food laws?

    1. Caligula?

    2. Upton Sinclair?

    3. Michael Bloomberg?

    4. Lucrezia Borgia?

    5. Jack Merridew?

    6. Hitler.

      That’s always the answer to that sort of question.

      1. Hitler was a vegetarian who didn’t impose his dietary choices on the masses, which makes him less of a douche than PETA and Michael Bloomberg

    7. Michelle Obama?

  6. “Wyoming has seen the exact opposite that these do gooders predict,” Lindholm tells me. “Wyoming[‘]s local food options have exploded and we still have had 0 foodborne illness outbreaks due to this Act passing into law.”

    Not surprising. In my experience, most local food producers have a passion for food and a strong sense of community – in other words, they’re not going to use tainted ingredients just to increase their profit margin by a few bucks.

    Contrast that with the factory environment of big “regulated” food producers. The workers are most likely poorly paid and overworked, and they couldn’t give a fuck if someone three states away gets sick from the microwave pizzas they make.

    1. generally i agree but i have seen small local grocery stores being far far worse than major chains.

      I avoid local grocery stores because they have the worst quality of produce and they never clean shelves of expires food. My ex and I went on a little trip to a B&B in a small old town in IL and the local grocery store was disgusting.

      Local grocery stores are the worst but when it comes to farmer markets they tend to be good.

      It really depends on the industry. Bakers are a hit or miss from what i have seen and from family and friends who have worked in baker stores.

  7. No thank you! I know how small business and individuals work. I can only imagine what they would spray on crops and put in their “homemade” foods! No, I don’t trust people without inspections and rules like cooking temperatures and storage temps. And, yes I buy at farmer’s markets and think they are a great thing.

    1. Ok, so you can keep eating McDonalds and Hungry Man TV dinners (e.g. inspected and regulated food) and other people can buy what they want from local producers. What’s the problem?

      Just because you say “no thank you” to unregulated food doesn’t give you the right to say “no thank you” on everyone else’s behalf as well.

      1. this!

        I don’t shop at certain small businesses because i know they have a bad rep. Whole in the wall dinners i avoid with a passion. Less learned from when i was younger. If someone wants to eat at those be my guest but i am staying away.

        1. It’s almost As if the market functions by itself!

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