Food Freedom vs. Regulatory Busybodies

While national stories like the multi-pronged
assault on energy drinks and the FDA’s
proposed Food Safety Modernization Act rules rightly grab
headlines—and often my attention—it’s perhaps too easy to overlook
the fact that much of what’s good and bad in the area of food law
and policy is taking place in our backyards (and
front yards, something I noted
here last summer).Cottage food laws, state laws permitting people to sell some
foods prepared in the home, are one such development. In
California, the state’s new cottage food law (which I wrote about
here) appears to be a
huge hit just a month into its existence.The law has already helped formerly illicit sellers to enter the
legal food market, a fact revealed during a recent cottage foods

panel chaired by KCRW food columnist Evan Kleiman.Cottage food laws aren’t perfect—as I noted
here—but when done right they can help budding culinary
entrepreneurs escape often crushing regulations faced by
restaurants and other food sellers.State laws permitting cottage foods are quickly catching up with
the demand for looser regulations. Nearly three-dozen states now
have cottage food laws
in place. And advocates in other states—including
Minnesota and
Alabama—are pushing to add their states to the growing
list.While cottage food laws benefit home cooks and their customers,
another important development at the state level is the ongoing
struggle for food freedom for small agricultural producers.
Significant recent developments are centered in Virginia—a state
boasting both lots of
lawyers and lots
of farmers.Perhaps the most noteworthy development in the state is
Virginia’s proposed farm freedom law—also known as the Boneta Bill.
The bill is named for Virginia farmer Martha Boneta, who was fined
last summer for having hosted a birthday party for her friend’s
pre-teen daughter on her own farm without first obtaining a
permit.As Katherine Mangu-Ward noted in an August
post at Hit & Run, local zoning officers fined Boneta
$5,000 for that alleged infraction and added on another $5,000 for
“advertising a pumpkin carving.”Disgusted by the clear assault on Boneta’s rights as a person
and farmer, supporters drafted a farm
freedom bill that would expand the definition of the state’s
existing Right to Farm Law—including providing farmers like Boneta
with a private right of action against busybody regulators and
“assert[ing] that any ordinance directed at persons, property, or
activity on land that is zoned agricultural or silvicultural that
seeks to restrict free speech or the right to assembly, among other
rights, is null and void.”“Burdensome rules, regulations and inspection requirements—many
of which are indecipherable except to lawyers and bureaucrats—now
impede the ability of health-conscious individuals and small
farmers to raise and produce their own food free of corporate
contaminants,” says John W. Whitehead, constitutional attorney and
president of the nonprofit Rutherford Institute, which is
based in Charlottesville, Virginia, in an email to me this
week.“That growing numbers of home gardeners and small farmers are
being prosecuted for such inane ‘crimes’ as keeping chickens or
making cheese speaks to a growing problem in America today, namely,
the overcriminalization and overregulation of a process that once
was at the heart of America’s self-sufficiency—the ability to
cultivate one’s own food, locally and sustainably,” says
Whitehead.Meanwhile, in another case
championed by the Rutherford Institute, a Virginia homeowner is
facing criminal charges for raising chickens in her yard. In a case
now before the Commonwealth’s Supreme Court, Rutherford lawyers
argue on behalf of Virginia Beach resident Tracy Gugal-Okroy that
their client should not be facing a possible $1,000 fine for
violating a zoning ordinance prohibiting the keeping of poultry on
private property.“Our constitutional rights have been buried in a thicket of
federal, state and local regulations,” says Pete Kennedy, attorney
and head of the nonprofit Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense
Fund, which is also based in Virginia and supports the
Boneta Bill, in an email to me. “The Farm Freedom bill[ would]
restore our right to obtain the food of our choice from the source
of our choice.”Whether in the form of cottage foods or farm freedom, it appears
that the state of things is looking up.

Originally from: 

Food Freedom vs. Regulatory Busybodies

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