For a while now, there’s been a strange battle brewing over homemade food items. In particular, baked goods. In Wisconsin it’s reaching an entirely new level of stupid.
In the Badger State, the simple act of selling freshly baked cakes and cookies is not so simple. Bakers can’t sell what they’ve created in their home kitchens. Instead, to legally operate, bakers must become licensed as either a “food processing plant” or a “retail food establishment.” Complying with the law forces farmers and home bakers to either build their own commercial-grade kitchen (which can cost upwards of $40,000 to $80,000) or rent space at a commercial kitchen, which can easily top $1,000 a month.
The ban is even more ridiculous in light of Wisconsin’s other regulations on home-prepared foods. Fresh fruits and vegetables, honey, cider (both raw and pasteurized), maple syrup and popcorn can all be sold without a license. A recently passed “Pickle Bill”legalized small-scale selling of home-canned foods, like jams, jellies, salsas and sauerkraut. In fact, the state even exempts nonprofit groups (like churches and charities) from licensure, allowing them to freely sell baked goods directly to consumers, for up to 12 days a year.
Given that cakes, cookies and muffins are just as safe—if not safer—than the other homemade treats Wisconsin permits, it’s hard to stomach the claim that the ban is needed to protect consumer health and safety. For instance, after Texas expanded its “cottage food” law to allow more people to open a home-based food business, the Institute for Justice contacted environmental health departments for the 25 largest cities and counties, and “found no complaints regarding foodborne illnesses from a cottage food business.”
So what’s the problem? Simple: Competition.
We all love the stories about companies that started out in a home kitchen and then grew into a massive corporation. Well, we love those stories. Larger companies tend not to. They tend to push for these laws to push out cottage producers. They know the dollar amounts are too high for a small operation just starting out, so they pretend it’s a public health issue to kill upcoming competition.
Honestly, is there anything more un-American than that? If not, then why are state governments signing on to such measures?