NOTE: This article comes before a date is set for Texas HB1139, to be discussed in the Public Health Committee, as a way to provide further explanation about the bill and how it works, especially to those who want to have a home business that responded to the last article about this bill. It is critical that the readers study the bill text for themselves, a copy of which can be found in the link provided below that says “Texas HB1139” in blue (as with the previous article). That link is to the Texas Legislature’s copy of the bill. This article comes after reading through the comments that requested a new article expaining the facts. To that end this latest article is being published. Readers are invited to pull up a copy of the bill to read side by side as we go over the bill at length. My hope is that readers will give this article the same attention as the writer gave to the comments. While some comments were deleted because of repetitoin and space, be assured that all comments were read through and given respectful cosideration.
Texas House Bill 1139, has been assigned to the House Public Heath Committee. When enacted it will affect over 140,000 registered non-profit organizations in the greater Houston area, and more than 1750 churches. The numbers of those interested in a home based baking business are not officially recorded but are said to be in the thousands across the state.
Texas HB1139, a bill “relating to the regulation of cottage food products and cottage food production operations,” by Representative Eddie Rodriguez, requires standards for food products baked or prepared in a home kitchen on par with commercial producers. Included in those requirements and restrictions are labeling requirements, income reporting requirements, and permitting requirements. There is no argument that a bill to legalize home baking production is needed. There is no dispute that renting a kitchen is an absurd way to run a very small baking business. While the hopeful future home business owners may think this a boon to their chances at entrepreneurship, it is critical that they read the fine print and think how this bill works before accepting it as is. Changing one set of problems for another is not particularly good legislation. The bill needs some adjustments to be fair and reasonable to those whose home made food products are meant for a wide variety of purposes and situations. This is a one size fits all policy and that makes it problematic. And while it claims to advocate for the home producer, it installs severe requirements that if those who want to start a cottage industry were to put pen to paper in calculating the effects and expenses of those they would pause their celebrations.
House Bill 1139 requires all home produced goods carry an extensive commercial style label listing among other things: the weight of the product, (which means that the home producer is required to distribute their product with precise measurements), all the ingredients in order of greatest weight to least; the producer’s name and address (this would be your private home address); and name of the product. It also requires home producers of all kinds to follow all federal regulations for food labeling. In addition, the bill requires that a clear and identifiable statement in a contrasting color list this notice, “Made in a home kitchen that is not routinely inspected by a state or local health authority,” which is clearly designed to insinuate that a homemade product is inferior to a commercially produced one because it is not inspected routinely. This, on it’s face is designed as a disclaimer of quality, when just the opposite might be true.
While at once the bill would hold them to the same distribution standards, it also makes them declare the obvious, that they are homemade. What is more: one has to wonder about the objective of the bill demanding a label designed to imply an inferior cleanliness and health standard than a commercial outfit. In reality, the exact opposite may be true. Federal standards for commercial food production allow a certain level of mice, rodent, and other intruders on the premises of commercial enterprises, where most people would not tolerate such a condition in their homes
But because the bill specifies that home made food products provide labeling consistant to federal standards, this raises questions about any legitimacy to allowing home baked good particularly for those donating to a cause rather than selling for profit. From the Federal website we read:
Food labeling is required for most prepared foods,such as breads, cereals, canned and frozen foods, snacks, desserts, drinks, etc.”
Some of the information required for these food labels includes
“net quantity of contents statement”,
a list of ingredients,
nutrition labeling, and
any health claims.
In addition to the labeling requirements the bill mandates that cottage industry food individuals or organizations must hold a food handlers permit or be directly supervised by one holding a permit.
The bill also requires home producers and others who are part of the “cottage food production” industry to file financial reports on their gross sales. While this and the permit requirements are just for a home business, they are prohibitive to the infrequent participant in a charity bake sale.
It may relinquish churches and others with patrons of the cost of building full kitchens, however, requiring a patron who may donate a handful at most, of baked goods a year to the bazaar to take food handlers courses, purchase a permit, provide extensive labeling that means they must also purchase a commercial quality scale for measuring ingredients and each end product to be sure the weight is precisely as stated on the label, is a hardship in a bill claiming to open up possibilities for home production. Additionally, keeping financial records for a project some may do one to three times a year is unreasonable.
The bill has a more negligent side, as it could, in its present form, put an undo safety risk on the home producer and their family, since the bill requires the name and address of the producer on the label. A commercial outfit is not a real person; thus, such a condition is not a risk to any one person in the company. But a cottage industry, as defined by this bill, requires private contact information to be made public. In a city the size of Houston, for instance, such a label is clearly not in the best interest of citizens’ safety.
The home good producer who wants to become a business might be willing to go through all the requirements laid out in this bill–even with the uphill climb out of the disadvantaged position the label requirements place on home producer businesses. But the most troubling problem with HB1139 comes with trying to lump all home bakers into the same situation and intentions. It is unreasonable to expect baked goods donated to a charity function to have all the requirements set forth in this bill. Patrons will decide not to donate home made goods. Additionally, it is impossible for such a person to comply because one of the legal requirements is that the legally recognized home producer sells the product from their home. If a patron donated their goods to be sold by a charity or church, the product is not sold as required, from the place where it was produced.
Good intentions do not necessarily make good legislation. The policies behind the intent must work to support the intent. What is the intent of this bill? Is it to promote cottage industry of home made foods? Or is it only a shift to a different form of harsh deterrents for some? If it is the former, there are a number of minor modifications that can be made to produce a better, more productive bill.
There are two main groups of people affected by this bill. The home producer who wants a for-profit business is one. The other is the individual baking for donations to a charity fair, church function or other non-profit organization. But the bill really only addresses the former group and throws the latter group in for good measure. The provisions for home producers relating to keeping records and permitting are appropriate, But the label has two issues that should be changed. When a home business applies for a permit and business license, their (home and private) information is stored there and not on the label. But on the label ia a corresponding number that is issued so if there is a problem or a comment about the product, a consumer can call to report it without putting a home producer at a safety risk by displaying their name and address to all the planet. Secondly, removing the derogatory label with one that states the point that the product came from a cottage industry will support the claim that this bill will help provide create business growth rather than penalize it.
To address the problems for the other group of home producers–those who periodically bake for charity, it would be reasonable that either a temporary permit would suffice if the donation is above a certain number of products, or if a producer donates under a certain quantity, they are exempt for the law requiring any regulation for permits and only general labeling be required. This is because virtually all church bazaars and charity drives work to sell within their own body of membership. All know each other and can find each other when there is a need to contact the person for any reason. Another option would be to have someone with the organization keep a record of all goods donated and transacted. This would eliminate the need for each individual to keep a record of one or two baked goods a year.
Texas HB1139 is one of those perfect examples that teach the importance of reading the text as we read news and synopsis of them. It is also an example of legislation where the details of the policy it creates fall short of its supposed intent, but is easily remedied if we know what is in the bill and think it though. The bill has yet to be calendared to the Pubic Health Committee schedule.