Lawmakers vote in favor of reducing regulations on cottage food industry

Stock image | St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Two bills seeking to reduce or eliminate regulation on the cottage food industry and the food sold at farmers markets have so far advanced favorably in the Utah House.

In this file photo, customers shop at the Downtown Farmers Market in Ancestor Square, St. George, Utah, May 10, 2014 | Photo by Samantha Tommer, St. George News

“Direct Food Sales Amendments,” designated as HB 58 and sponsored by state Rep. Scott Sandall, R-District 1, modifies the requirements for a cottage food production operation.

“We came up with the conclusion that in the cottage food industry, we are over-regulating,” Sandall said.

Small home kitchens making cakes, cookies, jams and jellies, he argued, do not pose a significant health risk and should not be subject to expensive inspections and licensing.

“Direct to Consumer Food Sales Modifications” designated as HB 277 1st Substitute and sponsored by state Rep. Marc Roberts, R-District 67, is a similar but broader-reaching bill that has advanced from its committee hearing.

In this file photo, people participate in the Downtown Farmers Market in Ancestor Square, St. George, Utah, May 10, 2014 | Photo by Samantha Tommer, St. George News

The bill states that a producer is exempt from certain state, county or city regulations for products that are produced and sold within the state, sold directly to an informed end consumer for home consumption and are not potentially hazardous.

While the range of goods is larger than those included in the Sandall bill, many items are still excluded, such as meat and raw milk.

Either bill’s fiscal impact is minimal, and enactment of the legislation likely will not result in direct, measurable costs for local governments, according to fiscal analyst Ivan D. Djambov.

“I guess I would say it makes the lemonade stand and the cookie stand legal,” Roberts said in an interview with St. George News.

He said the bill is meant specifically for small home kitchens and farms and would not affect regulation in place for large commercial operations.

Currently, home kitchens must have their equipment and recipes inspected by a state official before being licensed to sell their prepared goods to consumers, a process that often proves prohibitively expensive.

“We wouldn’t be having this discussion if there weren’t consumers out there wanting these products,” Roberts said. “More and more consumers want to buy local raw, fresh products.”

He said home kitchens and small growers have become increasingly discouraged to participate in farmers markets.

“There are producers that want to fulfill that demand, but they’re being met with burdensome regulation,” Roberts said.

Southern Utah advocates

“We’re not saying put this out in the agricultural complex … we’re saying this is producer-to-consumer from the farm or a farmer’s market. That’s it. It doesn’t go any wider or broader than that,” Symbria Patterson said. She, along with her daughter, runs Red Acre Farm in Cedar City.

In this file photo, Symbria Patterson feeds a bunny, Red Acre Farm CSA, Cedar City, Utah, Jan. 13, 2016 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News

Patterson, who favors Roberts’ bill, recalled 12 years ago at the Cedar City farmers market when no such regulations were in place and people were able to sell items like fresh mozzarella and fresh baked bread.

She described that market as virtually nonexistent in the years since stricter regulations were put in place.

“No one died, no one got sick,” Patterson said.

She noted a movement toward locally produced food that she said is healthier and more accessible.

“There is definitely that demand,” Patterson said. “Southern Utah’s going to have to make that happen and fight for that.”

So far, Southern Utah representatives have shown their unanimous favor for the Sandall bill, all voting “yea” when it was presented on the House floor.

“People need to have the ability to grow and sell small amounts of food,” Rep. Jon Stanard, R-District 62 in Southern Utah, said.

Stanard serves on the House Business and Labor Committee that helped see the Roberts bill through its committee hearing.

Bills move forward

Both bills are expected to receive further votes in the House and Senate and then must also meet the approval of Gov. Gary Herbert.

However, enactment is still far from a sure thing and some opposition was expressed during public hearings, particularly towards the Roberts bill.

In this file photo, goods are sold at the Downtown Farmers Market in Ancestor Square, St. George, Utah, May 10, 2014 | Photo by Samantha Tommer, St. George News

“The reason I oppose this is I’m concerned about unregulated uninspected products at a farmer’s market because I think it threatens the integrity of the farmer’s market,” Tyson Roberts, of Roberts Family Farm, said.

He argued that consumers come to farmers markets expecting food that is as safe as what can be purchased in the grocery store and unregulated food could upend that expectation if a consumer were harmed by it.

The sponsors of both bills conceded that there would still be labeling requirements, explicitly stating that the transaction is done with the end consumer’s acknowledgement of the product’s unregulated status.

On the other hand, an official from the Utah Department of Health said consumers have often proven to be misinformed, even with labeling, arguing that regulation is in place in part so the consumer doesn’t have to be explicitly informed.

While they have so far advanced separately, discussion in committee meetings regarding either bill indicates that the bills may merge with or negate the other depending on how they fare in upcoming proceedings.

Read more: See all St. George News reports on Utah Legislature 2017 issues

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3 Comments

  • Billy Madison February 24, 2017 at 8:32 pm

    What is cottage foods? Cottage cheese? Foods you eat in a cottage?

  • .... February 25, 2017 at 7:29 am

    LOL ! You’ve been reading to many of Real Lifes stupid comments !

    • Real Life February 25, 2017 at 8:58 am

      You should try reading the articles once in a while. See this is a great opportunity for you. Instead of staying up all night trolling the internet, you could use this time to can and jar food to sell at farmers markets. Probably tax free, so it will not affect those government assistance checks you depend on.

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