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The New Cottage Food Rules

A year ago, Wyoming enacted a food freedom law that supporters considered “revolutionary” and a “landmark success”, while others warned of the impending food safety dangers from uncertified kitchens. Unlike most cottage food laws, this one allows (gasp) potentially-hazardous foods like soups, casseroles, and even a cooked turkey — all without any licensing, inspections, or government oversight.

An Update On Wyoming

Now that Wyoming has tested the waters of food freedom for a year, how’s it going? Are people using the new law, and if so, is it negatively impacting the public health? As Reason Magazine reports, the law has been a “roaring success”, and Wyoming is now looking at ways to expand their Food Freedom Act.

Regarding the status of the public health, State Rep. Tyler Lindholm said “Currently Wyoming has experienced none of the deaths that we were all warned would happen”. This is hardly surprising… if you step back and think about it, you’ve probably eaten quite a bit of this uninspected and “potentially hazardous” food: maybe you made it in your own kitchen or tried some at a friend’s house, and you lived to tell the tale.

The Food Safety Fear

Wyoming is just the latest example of a cottage food law having no negative reports or impacts on the public health, which is particularly notable since their law allows perishable food items. In fact, the lack of bad news suggests that these small businesses are actually less hazardous than commercial, inspected ones. And yet, food safety concerns continue to kill cottage food bills around the country.

For instance, one senator in New Jersey continues to block every cottage food bill, in the name of safety. Wisconsin’s bill to introduce baked goods (the least risky and most common of all cottage foods) just failed. And food freedom bills in Virginia, Maine, and Utah haven’t succeeded.

Is It Really About Safety?

Since there are dozens of cottage food laws, and there is no evidence that cottage food operations are more hazardous to the public health than commercial ones, we have to wonder if that’s really the issue preventing these bills from passing. When we dig a little deeper, we find that there’s often another fear altogether: fear of competition.

Some, like that New Jersey senator, are very open about their concern of competition. Others often use food safety as a cover for their true motives… saying no to the bill in order to “protect the public” makes them look good.

Often commercial food business associations will get involved in the opposition, citing health issues as their primary concern. When a bakers association takes the initiative to create an anti-bill petition, focusing their objection around food safety, you can be sure that there’s another major concern at play: money.

Progress, Little By Little

Despite some of the setbacks, there continues to be progress in the cottage food movement every year. Last fall, Montana and Connecticut added a cottage food law (though CT’s is highly flawed). Earlier this year, Oregon added a law, and Illinois and Ohio amended theirs. And three days ago, an amendment to Colorado’s cottage food law was signed by the governor.

A couple years ago, a food freedom law seemed like a pipe dream, but today, these bills are being taken seriously. About a decade ago, the cottage food movement started slowly taking off, and we see the same thing happening with food freedom today. It may still be largely underground, but the seeds have been planted and they are growing. The rules are changing yet again… what do you think the local food scene will look like five years from now?