Michigan Bureaucrats are Cracking Down on Food Freedom

The Institute for Justice recently published an article commending Michigan for reforming its occupational licensing laws to reduce restrictions on entrepreneurs. But Michigan’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) and Department of Natural Resources (DNR) refuse to follow suit, choosing instead to burden Michiganders with unnecessary laws that cause nothing but harm.

On October 10th, DARD issued a “friendly” reminder to local apple cider producers: Michigan’s cottage food laws, which “exempt a cottage food operation from the licensing and inspection provisions of the Michigan Food Law,” do not apply to beverages, so cider-makers must obtain a license in order to make and sell apple cider out of their homes. Created by the Michigan Cider Safety Task Force, this license requires any would-be cider entrepreneur to maintain a certified food safety specialist on staff who has passed a state-run training course.

Under Michigan’s Cottage Food Law, “non-potentially hazardous foods that do not require time and/or temperature control for safety can be produced in a home kitchen,” and because cider production typically involves pasteurization, the DARD does not considered cider a cottage food. But even a basic internet search for pasteurizing apple cider results in a quick and easy four-step process that any homeowner can achieve with a kitchen stove.

While apple cider producers have not yet pursued any legal action against the DARD, the Department of Natural Resources is facing two upcoming trials which challenge its paternalistic laws regarding not cider, but pigs.

In passing Michigan’s Invasive Species Order, the Department of Natural Resources banned the ownership of certain types of swine, but exempts those who keep pigs for “domestic hog production,” namely, companies that maintain pigs for the mass production of pork products. And though the law facially delineates two different classes of boar (banning Sus scrofa and allowing Sus domestica), these are actually different names for the same species.

Baker’s Green Acres acts as a gaming reservation, housing pigs and other creatures in a contained natural environment where customers pay for a chance to hunt and harvest these animals. Although this farm maintains the same pigs housed at “domestic hog production” facilities, it is prohibited from doing so under a law meant to eradicate invasive species.

The Michigan Pork Producers Association has overwhelmingly supported the law, as it eliminates any potential competition its members might face from small businesses who cannot afford to industrialize the process of raising and slaughtering pigs. The owner of Baker’s Green Acres, Mark Baker and Brenda Turunen, have filed suit against the DNR and are awaiting trial.

Apple cider and swine production might seem like small, isolated cases of government regulation, but these are people’s livelihoods. Obtrusive licensing requirements and violations of property rights mock this country’s founding principles of a free market and limited government – that is to say nothing of the serious harm caused to business owners and their families. IJ’s National Food Freedom Initiative was launched this month to protect the rights of Americans to raise, grow, buy, sell and eat the foods and drinks of their choice.

At least one member of the state legislature understands: Michigan Sen. Darwin Booher, who warns, “if you threaten my livelihood, you threaten feeding my family tonight.”

— Phil Applebaum
Phil Applebaum is a Maffucci Fellow at the Institute for Justice

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