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August 11, 2008 1:59 pm

Too many regulations not in consumers' best interest

Written by Tribune Staff

The Saturday Farmers' Market draws consumers from around the area.
People come to buy the usual suspects — beans, chard, cucumbers, zucchini, and the yet-to-be-seen tomatoes, along with other home-grown produce.
Many also look for baked goods like breads, dinner rolls and cakes.
However, the Wyoming Department of Agriculture's Consumer Health Services, under pressure from the FDA, may soon prohibit the sale of those products — unless they are prepared in a licensed, commercial kitchen.
Existing Wyoming Statute § 35-7-124 (a) says that “any person processing, distributing, storing or preparing any food ... shall obtain a license.”
However, farmers' market vendors around the state have been allowed to continue sales of baked goods because of a loophole in subsection “e” under the same statute. It says the law “...shall not apply to food operators or kitchens in private homes that prepare food that is not potentially hazardous (cakes, cookies, dinner rolls and breads) and (is) prepared for sale or use at functions, including those operated by not-for-profit charitable or religious organizations.”
The state Attorney General's office in 2006 interpreted the word “functions” to include farmers' markets, but the office has now reversed course, saying farmers' markets are not “functions” after all. The decision apparently was based on whether a vendor is selling goods for profit.
Differentiating between for-profit farmers' markets and not-for-profit bake sales is splitting hairs. In both cases, most buyers are aware that the items they're purchasing are rarely prepared in commercial kitchens.
As one Powell Tribune Blog reader put it, “Given the choice, I'll take home-made bread purchased at a farmers' market any day over Wonder Bread. If people want guarantees when it comes to food safety, go to IGA or Blair's.”
The Wyoming Consumer Health office — recognizing that the statute, and the attorney general's interpretation, is overly restrictive — may soon introduce a bill making the sale of such products legal.
That's the right choice. Hopefully our legislators also will see that over-zealous regulation of farmers' markets and similar events is not needed or wanted.
Besides, aren't there bigger problems to tackle?