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California bill would give local food producers legitimacy

Mark Stambler's award winning pain levain.
Mark Stambler's award winning pain levain.
Kevin Ferguson

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Mark Stambler is a home breadmaker who spent years perfecting his craft and finally came up with a product he could sell to local shops in his Los Feliz neighborhood. His breadmaking attracted so much attention that the Los Angeles Times published a long piece about him and his special outdoor bread oven.

But soon after the article appeared, Mark was contacted by the Los Angeles Department of Public Health and ordered to stop selling his bread to stores. Stambler was not authorized to run a cottage food industry and his bread was deemed unsafe for public consumption because it hadn’t been inspected.

Michael Gatto is the assemblyman for the 43rd district in which Mark resides and has taken up his cause with AB 1616, an assembly bill that would allow for the sale of certain homemade foods to the public.

"Just hearing about his experience made me think if really having this patchwork of laws in 58 different counties' health departments, enforcing their different versions of health food laws in each county, if that was really the best thing our state could do for these micro-entrepreneurs in the food business," said Gatto on AirTalk. "Especially given that there's been a real surge in the local food movement in just about every part of the state."

The California Homemade Food Act was introduced to help micro food businesses throughout the state by creating a pathway for the legal sale of safe homemade food products such as breads, tortillas, dry roasted nuts and legumes, granola, churros, rice cakes, jams, jellies, other fruit preserves, and cookies. The bill passed the California Assembly on Tuesday and is now headed for approval to the Senate.

"These aren't people who are drying sides of beef in their backyard, these aren't people who are selling pork jerky or stuff like that. These are a very finite group of foods, and I think that most people would agree they're rather safe," said Gatto.

California State Assemblyman Curt Hagman opposes the bill, saying it would be too costly for the state, especially since California is already running $16-billion defect. He estimates that it will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Dept. of Public Health to develop rules and regulations for home food producers.

He also says the state-mandated regulations would be too costly for many home food producers who simply want to make a little extra money by selling their goods to their local boutiques or bake sales.

"I picture the neighbors doing a bakery sale to raise money for a charity, or doing the canning, or something very small. They're not going to be very savvy," he said. "They can be fined up to $1,000 a day for not complying with these new laws, and there's no grace period. There's no, 'Hey, we caught you, you need to do this before you get [fined].'"

This bill may be good for micro-entrepreneurs but does it undermine safety regulations that protect consumers? Can home food producers be regulated without stifling creative entrepreneurial activity?


Michael Gatto, Assemblyman for the 43rd Assembly District, representing the cities of Burbank, Glendale, and parts of Los Angeles, including Los Feliz, North Hollywood, Silver Lake, Toluca Lake, Valley Glen, and Van Nuys.

Curt Hagman (R-Chino Hills), California State Assemblyman representing the 60th District, which includes Chino Hills, Anaheim, Diamond Bar, Industry, La Habra, La Habra Heights, La Mirage, Orange, San Dimas, Villa Park, Walnut, Whittier and Yorba Linda