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North Dakota state Capitol

The North Dakota state Capitol in Bismarck is offset by flowers in full bloom in June 2018.

Legislation meant to clarify North Dakota's cottage foods law from 2017 died after passionate debate in the House on Thursday.

The Senate had passed the bill 44-2 that morning but it failed 26-65 in the House that afternoon.

Arguments around personal liberty and food safety returned in a 20-minute floor debate as the bill's conference committee brought amendments that essentially banned low acid canned foods, such as green beans. Lawmakers have expressed concerns for allowing low acid canned items due to health risks, such as botulism. 

"This is a reasonable compromise," said Sen. Janne Myrdal, R-Edinburg, who carried the bill in the Senate. 

Cottage food producers clashed with the state Department of Health over a rule-making process on the law passed in 2017 that expanded direct-to-consumer sales of mostly home baked and canned items. No rules came, and Sen. Jerry Klein, R-Fessenden, brought the bill to clarify intent and definitions in statute.

Rep. Daniel Johnston, R-Kathryn, pointed to the Department of Health seeking to "undermine legislative intent" and limit North Dakota's "food freedom."

"So the department of control — I'm sorry, the Department of Health is still opposed to Grandma's apple butter," Johnston said. 

Rep. Luke Simons, R-Dickinson, who brought the 2017 bill, called cottage foods "a freedom issue" and "a free market issue," asking to defeat the bill for the restrictions it would impose on cottage food producers.

Rep. Bernie Satrom, R-Jamestown, carried the bill, on which he expressed support for cottage foods but concerns over the risk for botulism from low acid canned foods.

"That's what I think is the stopping point for a lot of people, including the Senate," Satrom said.

Julie Wagendorf, director of the state Division of Food and Lodging, was unavailable Thursday to discuss what the bill's failure may mean for a rule-making process.

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Reach Jack Dura at 701-223-8482 or jack.dura@bismarcktribune.com.

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