Gatto’s bill to Legalize Sales of Homemade Food Clears Next Legislative Hurdle

Assemblyman Mike Gatto

Assemblyman Mike Gatto’s (D-Los Angeles) Assembly Bill (AB) 1616, the California Homemade Food Act, earned its latest legislative victory Wednesday with a unanimous vote of 8-0 in the Senate Health Committee. The Act would allow for the sale of homemade, “non-potentially hazardous” foods by creating a two-tier system of “cottage food operations” based upon the point of sale.

The Assemblyman made a commitment to help micro-entrepreneurs improve access to locally produced foods after his constituent, Mark Stambler, was shut down by the Los Angeles Department of Environmental Health for selling homemade breads baked in the brick oven in his home. “The victory in Health Committee is another substantial step for artisan food makers like Mark,” said Gatto, “I am happy to see such broad support clearing the path for people to produce healthy, homemade foods. But, our work is far from complete. The opposition from large corporations who want to kill potential competition is growing.”

Under AB 1616, foods available for sale would include every-day items such as breads, tortillas, dry roasted nuts and legumes, granola, churros, jams, jellies and other fruit preserves, rice cakes and cookies. If the producer chose to sell directly to the consumer, he or she would register with the local health department and complete a food handler’s course. If a producer chose to sell to a local store or grocer, such as the neighborhood coffee shop, he or she would have inspections and a permit from the local health department. “During these tough times, micro-businesses and our local governments need not waste time and money on a long, drawn out permitting process that is intended for corporate retailers and producers,” commented Gatto. “Creating a legal structure for the safe, in-home production of certain foods that respects the importance of public health is a sensible approach.”

The legislation is consistent with similar laws of at least 32 other states, none of which have reported a food-borne illness from non-potentially hazardous foods. The Act has been amended several times to reflect numerous conversations with local health directors, small and large-scale retail interests, and cultural and ethnic groups. The bill has thus far received the support of a variety of organizations statewide, including the Los Angeles Bread Bakers, the Sustainable Economies Law Center, Proyecto Jardin, Whole Foods Market Northern California, the Central Coast Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, and the California Food and Justice Coalition.

There has been debate about whether to allow sales of such products through retail shops, but Gatto insists this is a matter of access to opportunity during difficult economic times for families struggling to make ends meet. In 2008, 86-year-old disabled World War II veteran Jack Melton was stopped by Shasta County Environmental Health Officials from selling the fruitcakes he had been making in his home kitchen for ten years. Gatto said, “In a state where farmers markets have limited space, are concentrated in more populated counties, and are seasonal in many areas, limiting this opportunity doesn’t make sense. The disabled veteran fruit cake-maker, the elderly woman making jelly, the single mom selling churros, and the bread-baker who works Saturdays at his regular job are limited in their ability to transport their products to farmer’s markets. They shouldn’t be kept from taking advantage of this opportunity to provide for themselves and for their families.”

AB 1616 has been amended to include a series of specific restrictions on retail sales to make sure this remains a small-scale, community activity, which is a critical economic development tool in a State with 12% unemployment.

AB 1616 now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee before going to the Senate Floor for a full vote of the chamber. The Governor must sign the bill before September 30th to lift the ban on homemade foods sales in California.

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