Thursday, January 21, 2010

Legislature to address "cottage foods"

The Casper Star-Tribune featured an article by Joan Barron this week about a little-known issue that will undoubtedly bubble to the surface during the legislative session.

It's all about something called "cottage foods." Those are foods prepared in a cottage (or even a house) and sold at the local farmer's market or community bazaar. These could be potentially hazardous dishes, such as Uncle Joe's chili or Aunt Sue's lasagna. Selling stuff such as veggies and fruits and jams and bread and honey is already O.K.

That's where this gets a little sticky.

This will be the third legislative session the council has addressed problems raised in bills sponsored by Rep. Sue Wallis, R-Recluse.

The first year the bill to exempt so-called cottage foods -- those prepared in home kitchens -- from regulation failed to get through the Legislature.

Last year a modified version did pass. As of July 1 it allows sales of home-produced foods such as jams, cookies and bread at farmers markets and roadside stands without inspection or licensing.

Wallis plans to introduce a bill for the budget session that opens Feb. 8 to expand the cottage food exemption.

Although they have not seen the bill, the council members said they expect it to be the same as the original bills introduced by Wallis before they were modified.

"It would make it wide open," said the council's chairman, Robert Harrington, director of the Casper-Natrona County Health Department.

God forbid we make anything "wide open" here in the libertarian great wide open. What happens when the local foods movement runs up against government food inspectors? We must have safe food. That's a given. But cottage businesses are local businesses making local delicacies. The money stays in the community, unlike the dough you spend in the Wal-Mart grocery section. How will these small businesses, the politician's favorite kind of business, thrive?

I'm glad the legislature will be considering Wallis's bill. Maybe it can help to define ways that local food purveyors can bring real food back to our tables.

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