MI House Agriculture Committee meets this Wednesday to discuss Cottage Food Operation Bill

This Wednesday, May 5th, the Agriculture Committee will meet to discuss the Cottage Food Operation bill - a proposed amendment to the “Food law of 2000.” The 13 page Cottage Food Operation bill says in essence that a “cottage food operation,” defined as a person who packages “non-potentially hazardous food in a kitchen” of that person’s home, is exempt from the “licensing and inspection” requirements of commercial food producers (there is a $15,000 annual production limit). “Non-potentially hazardous food” is defined as “baked goods, jams, jellies, candy, snack food, cereal, granola, dry mixes, vinegar, and dried herbs. It would not include home-canned low-acid or acidified vegetables, home-canned salsa, or home-canned food: food service items, ready to eat meals, meat, sandwiches, cheese, or custard pies; garlic in oil; food that requires temperature control for safety; and bottled water, home-produced ice products, and other beverages and products.”

The “cottage food operation shall place on the label of any food it produces or packages a statement…”Made in a home kitchen that has not been inspected by the Michigan Department of Agriculture.”” The products are not allowed to be sold at “for-profit events” like “craft shows, flea markets, by means of the internet, outside of the state, or by means of consignment. Homes, farm markets, municipal farmers markets, county fairs, town celebrations, festivals, and events” are okay.

Proponents of the bill see it as a way of creating income in a very difficult economic climate, a way of encouraging entrepreneurship, and allowing “our economy to grow.” Detractors of the bill are concerned about safety and creation of “unequal competition” with brick and mortar institutions (businesses carry a substantial outlay of overhead and certification costs that home cooks would not carry).

The first time the Cottage Food Operation bill was proposed, in 2007 by Representative Terry Brown (D-Pigeon), it went “nowhere,” according to Representative Pam Byrnes (D-Dexter). Nowhere is no longer where we are.

On August 26, 2009, Representative John Proos (R-St. Joseph) introduced the Cottage Food Operation bill (HB 5280). Rep. Byrnes introduced the exact same Cottage Food Operation bill (HB 5837) on February 17, 2010. Both bills have identical wording to the bill Rep. Brown introduced three years ago.

Confused? I certainly was, which is why I was so thrilled when Rep. Byrnes took time to discuss with me this suddenly very popular piece of legislation.

Identical introductions are “what happens with a lot of this legislation, you don’t know who is going to introduce what, which is why I introduced it, because I knew that there were a lot of people interested in it and I wanted to have my input into it .” says Byrnes. When I mention that both bills (HB 5280 and HB 5837) have their own facebook pages and the Proos bill has been lauded by the Tea Party of West Michigan, Byrnes smiles, “Oh, this is great! Don’t you like that this is all coming together? We are going to work together, which is good because that way it will be done in a bipartisan fashion - East and West, so to speak. John [Proos] and I have worked together before on the same issues - he is a good guy to work with.”

I ask Rep. Byrnes why she thinks now is a good time for the Cottage Food Operation bill to be debated. Before joining the Michigan House, Byrnes shares that for 27 years she ran her own law firm and understands the entrepreneurial spirit. She smiles as she takes a sip of her coffee and contemplates the menu, “I love food. I like to eat and I always cook - I cook a lot. Anything we can do to help people with the natural food stuff, it just makes sense.”

This Wednesday the Agriculture Committee will meet to discuss the proposed amendments to the Food law of 2000. Rep. Proos and Rep. Brynes will discuss the Cottage Food Operations bill and Representative Vicki Barnett will discuss her amendment to the Food Code regarding licensing for hobby beekeepers (HB 5843). Depending on Wednesday’s conversation, a version of the amendments might be sent to the House for a vote.

If you would like to add your two cents to this conversation in Lansing, contact the Agriculture Committee Chairman, Representative Mike Huckleberry (email mikehuckleberry@house.mi.gov) or your local representative. Click here to find their email.

Here is the article on annarbor.com