North Dakota's Health Department receives stream of written opposition to cottage food rules
BISMARCK — All but a few written comments from the public accuse North Dakota's Health Department of onerous regulations in proposed rules for cottage foods.
The Health Department received 54 written comments on the rules before a recent deadline, few of them in favor of the rules for a 2017 law that expanded direct-to-consumer sales of uninspected home-baked and canned foods.
State health officials have said the law needs rules to safeguard public health and to clarify definitions as to what foods can be sold.
The rules essentially mirror a bill defeated by the 2019 Legislature that was meant to clarify legal definitions. That bill included labeling and frozen transport requirements for some foods and would have prohibited low-acid canned items, like green beans. House lawmakers argued over health risks and "food freedom" in debating the bill.
The Health Department will respond to the written comments and send those responses with the comments to the attorney general's office — which will review the legality of the proposed rules — before submitting them to the State Health Council. The council is the governing body for the Health Department and next meets in November. The proposed rules eventually will go to the Legislature's Administrative Rules Committee for review.
Twenty-six comments generally opposed the rules as restrictive and acting against the Legislature's intent.
"I believe, as I hope you do, that for the most part North Dakota is full of honest, hard working, intelligent people," wrote cottage food vendor Ashley Ueckert, of Sentinel Butte. "Those people should have the ability to choose who they purchase food products from and to determine for themselves the best practices to do so."
"In my reading, these (rules) contravene the spirit ... of the legislation our elected representatives passed to free people up to sell homemade, home-raised goods," wrote Leroy Huizenga of Bismarck.
"Please! North Dakota people have been feeding themselves for quite some time now. Please leave them alone and let us get on with business," wrote Deborah Scott, who indicated she has bought a variety of homemade foods from Watford City's farmers market.
The Institute for Justice, a law firm that has challenged Mandan's mural ordinance and criticized North Dakota's civil asset forfeiture law, asked the Health Department to withdraw the rules, citing statutory contradictions, legal precedent and lawsuits in other states.
"Cottage food producers should be allowed to earn an honest living by selling all foods not explicitly excluded by statute, free from invalid and unreasonable regulations," wrote senior research analyst Jennifer McDonald and attorney Erica Smith.
Four written comments didn't oppose the rules. Grand Forks Public Health Environmental Health Manager Javin Bedard wrote in support of the rules he feels will help mitigate health risks and bring accountability as for other food safety laws.
"These rules take a balanced approach and supports the unregulated production of cottage foods that are generally lower risk for foodborne illness and that can be reasonably produced in domestic settings," Bedard wrote.
Twenty-four comments opposed the rules based on what Health Department spokeswoman Nicole Peske said was "misinformation" that foraged mushrooms would be banned. She said the Health Department has responded to those people to inform them that mushrooms are not affected by the proposed rules.