Liability and safety echoed in a House floor debate on Tuesday over a bill meant to clarify North Dakota's cottage foods law.
House members passed Senate Bill 2269 on a 70-21 vote, sending it back to the Senate for concurrence on House amendments. Those amendments include some requirements for transporting refrigerated foods and labeling and processing requirements for low acid canned items, which the original bill prohibited.
Sen. Jerry Klein, R-Fessenden, brought the bill for clarification and consistency after cottage food producers clashed with the state Department of Health over a rule making process following the 2017 session's expansion of direct-to-consumer sales of home baked and canned items.
Cottage food producers opposed Klein's original bill as too onerous or limiting in its labeling and transport requirements, such as freezing. But North Dakota Food Freedom coordinator LeAnn Harner said the House amendments are "very good."
"We're not afraid of our product," Harner told the Tribune. "Our sales are done on a handshake basis, so we really do know our customers and no cottage food producer wants a customer to get sick. That's the worst thing that can happen to your business, so we're going to do our best."
The House spent about 15 minutes on the bill, questioning liability, concerns of sickening consumers and the degree of government involvement in an industry with little to no regulation.
"I'm for cottage foods, but I'm against this bill," said Rep. Bernie Satrom, R-Jamestown, pondering the risk of botulism in canning and how effective labeling would be. "I think what we're doing, in essence, is we're saying, 'Don't worry. The state of North Dakota, the law say it's all fine. Just put this label on there, it'll all be safe.'"
Other House members pointed to an apparent lack of recent deaths or illness associated with cottage foods, as well as the personal choice involved.
"As far as liability goes, this is between the producer and the consumer," said Rep. Daniel Johnston, R-Kathryn. "We don't need to put government in there."
"There just really isn't a real problem, a train wreck of botulism," said Rep. Luke Simons, R-Dickinson, who brought the 2017 legislation.
Rep. Dennis Johnson, R-Devils Lake, who chairs the House Agriculture Committee which gave a 7-5 "do-pass" recommendation on the bill, pointed out his "real concerns" for illness from low acid products.
"We haven't had the reports of incidents happening, and we don't have the acid police out there watching over this," Johnson said, "but let that one incident happen, that's when it's going to go back and, well, 'What's the law say?' and 'Should we have been allowing this activity to happen?'"
Klein said the bill will likely go to a conference committee.
"We'll see what conference does," Harner said.