A Zillion Page Document to Bake and Sell a CookieTuesday, June 7, 2011
Due to the exponentially increasing popularity of artisan, small-batch foods, governments everywhere had to react quickly to control these horrifying and hazardous-to-our-health voluntary market transactions that were taking place everywhere. Michigan, for instance, is a state where wonderful and unique artisan and local products are easily obtained – there’s Detroit Eastern Market, the zillions of local (suburban) farmers markets, rural farmers selling products on property food stands, and small, specialty stores that are just about everywhere. This represents, to me, the true spirit of the free market. Foraging and gathering great products right from the person(s) who created the recipe and/or put their time and capital at risk to bring unestablished products to the public. Thanks to the availability of these great foods – in spite of the crackdown on free selling and free choice – I have not spent much time in standard grocery stores in many years.
The government solution was to put up another considerable impediment to free choice that purports to protect us all from harm – the Michigan Cottage Food Law. This law essentially means that, as a cottage foods seller, you will not have to meet most requirements outlined in the Michigan Food Law (exemption from licensing requirements and routine inspection). Yet the Cottage Food Law is a zillion-page decree that spells out what kind of products you can sell to others, where and how you can prepare it, what you must wear while preparing it, how you must package and label it, etc., etc.
The Michigan Department of Agriculture makes it known, in its Cottage Foods FAQ, that “not all food products can be sold as Cottage Foods. They must be non-potentially hazardous foods that do not require time and/or temperature controls for safety.” A PHF/TCS food (Potentially Hazardous Food / Temperature Controlled for Safety) is a food that meets the following requirements: Contains moisture (water activity greater than 0.85). Contains protein. Is neutral to slightly acidic ( pH between 4.6 and 7.5).
PHF/TCS food examples are homemade salsa and vegetable sauces. To churn out these bad boys one must “must meet significant federal and state training and licensing requirements.” In other words, barriers to entry have been erected that will deter most potential sellers. The Michigan Department of Agriculture website says this about its mission:
The Cottage Food Law allows food entrepreneurs to operate small food businesses and produce a variety of food products that are low risk from a food safety standpoint, if prepared properly in an unlicensed and uninspected kitchen, while protecting public health to the greatest extent possible.
Throughout the document, the words “safety,” “protect,” and “public health” appear repeatedly. The same old story, I know. If you want to sell vanilla bean extract, you must “obtain a license from the Michigan Liquor Control Commission by completing License Form LC-687, Application for new licenses or Application of Buyers for Transfer of Owner or Interest in License,” and this is because vanilla bean extract has an alcohol content. And then there are the labeling and packaging requirements, which are many pages long – and that’s just to label a cookie. And there are also income limits (under $15k annually), otherwise you need to be subjected to the same rules as the big, industrial sellers.
Yet when this law passed, the Michigan media celebrated the newfound “freedom” signed into law by Governor Granholm. Yes, the masses tend to think that government laws allowing us to act along specific lines – as long as we play by the rules – does indeed free us from an apparently inherent state of non-freedom. In fact, this bill was described by many in the media as a state law that “celebrated entrepreneurship” by allowing creative sellers to freely transact with willing buyers as determined by the narrowly-defined state regulations.
And when you think that is all beyond belief, check out the Food Safety Authority of Ireland. The US does not have a monopoly on deterring human freedom while initiating food safety insanity.