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North Dakota Health Department Guts Food Freedom Law

Legislative Committee Approves Department’s Request to Stymie Local Entrepreneurs

Bismarck, N.D.Today, the North Dakota Legislative Assembly’s Administrative Rules Committee approved rules to significantly weaken the state’s food freedom law. The Institute for Justice (IJ) has repeatedly urged the Legislature and the state Department of Health not to adopt rules that will significantly impair people’s ability to run their homemade food businesses. 

The law, which went into effect in 2017, allows virtually any homemade food item (except for raw dairy and certain meat products) to be sold directly to consumers. But citing a purported concern for public health and safety, the Department has repeatedly attempted to adopt administrative rules that not only limit the kinds of foods that may be sold to just baked goods, some canned goods, and fresh produce, but also prevent producers from selling any ready-to-eat items at public events.  

But those concerns are unfounded. Wyoming adopted its food freedom law in 2015, and so far there have been no reports of anyone getting sick from a homemade food they purchased in their community. “Given the unblemished track record of food freedom laws, there is no need to impose such severe regulations on homemade food businesses,” said North Dakota goat farmer and food freedom activist LeAnn Harner. 

Adopting these rules will have real-life impacts on countless people across the state. Research suggests cottage food businesses provide an important path to entrepreneurship and financial independence for their owners, who are often lower-income women living in rural areas. And when states restrict the foods that home-based entrepreneurs may sell, those individuals are less likely to expand their businesses. 

“Homemade food producers use their extra income to buy health insurance for their families and get out of debt,” said Jennifer McDonald, a senior research analyst at IJ. “These new rules will have a detrimental effect on the financial security of many North Dakota families.”

The Department of Health tried to adopt these rules when the law went into effect but withdrew them after intense opposition from IJ and other food freedom advocates. Earlier this year, the Department proposed the rules again but this time in the form of proposed legislation. Once again, the Legislature rejected the changes. 

“The Legislature made its intent clear when the Act was first adopted,” said Erica Smith, an IJ attorney. “It is not the role of the executive branch to undermine decisions made by the elected Legislature.”

The rules will go into effect on January 1.

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