Got raw milk? Law firm fights food regulations

NEW YORK (AP) — A Minnesota law prohibits a home-based bakery from selling more than $5,000 worth of food a year. In Oregon, small farms can sell unpasteurized milk but can't advertise it.

These are two laws regulating the food industry that the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm, expects to challenge in lawsuits to be filed on Tuesday. The suits are part of a campaign the IJ is beginning against statutes it says interferes with citizens' right to produce, sell, buy and eat the food that they choose, said Michael Bindas, an attorney with the firm.

Laws that regulate food can be burdensome, even fatal for a small business, Bindas said. He calls the laws protectionist, intended to shield the business of companies like retailers, commercial bakeries and large farms from sales by smaller competitors.

"It ensures that a small business remains nothing more than a hobby and that it can't thrive," he said.

Many small business owners complain about regulations that they say create a financial and administrative burden. Small business advocates have noted that many of these regulations are at the state and local level, like the Minnesota and Oregon laws. The IJ began researching regulations on food production and sales several years ago, when it was looking into complaints about the regulation of food trucks, Bindas said.

The Minnesota law allows a maximum of $5,000 in home-baked goods to be sold, and only at farmers' markets and community events like bake sales. The cost of ingredients, supplies and rental for a farmer's market stall can easily surpass $5,000, according to Bindas.

The state Agriculture Department said in a statement it could not comment on a lawsuit it was not aware of, and it also would not comment on any pending litigation. 

Many states besides Minnesota have regulations known as cottage food laws governing the sale of food manufactured in a home. The laws differ widely. Bindas said the IJ is looking at other laws to see if they should be challenged.

Oregon permits farmers with no more than two milk-producing cows to sell unpasteurized milk, but they're not allowed to advertise it. Bindas said the law not only prevents a small business from succeeding, it also infringes on a farmer's freedom of speech since advertising is considered free speech under the Constitution, Bindas said.

Oregon Agriculture Department officials hadn't seen the expected lawsuit and therefore couldn't comment on it, spokesman Bruce Pokarney said.

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