Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Everything I want to do requires a license

I'm going to do a bit of a follow up post of an article my brother did a while back.
Selling Homebrew is Illegal
Keep the homebrew at home: The brewers will thank you
I like to make things. Production is in my nature. Being an entrepreneur at heart, I always want to sell people stuff. Anything I can get my hands or make on, can potentially be a money opportunity. However, a lot of items people produce cannot legally be sold without going through a bunch of red tape.

I get asked by my peers to sell them homebrew. I always have to decline and tell them that I cannot because that is illegal in this country. The law states that up to 100 gallons of homebrew can be made per household per year by an individual (that number goes up to 200 gallons if there are 2 or more living there). As much as I would like to meet this goal, it's far away from me. I think this year the apartment only reached 41 gallons total, not even close to the limit. Anyway, selling homebrew will always remain illegal because of the things that can go wrong during the process. Improper sanitation can lead to infection as I have learned well. The homebrew laws aren't just to protect consumers, they are there to protect the businesses. With the 1000+ new breweries opening up across the country within the last 10 years, every ambitious homebrewer wants a piece of the beer market pie. And it's working too; the big breweries have begun to lose their market share and have even merged (MillerCoors I'm looking at you). Regardless of how good a homebrew product you make, attempting to skirt the law by selling it just undermines the foundation and appreciation for ones own beer. I'm not suggesting that sharing with friends is a bad thing, but enterprising homemade beer is a slippery slope.
Selling Bread requires licensing
You're telling me I can't exchange this loaf for money?
The laws regarding homebrew make sense to me, but there are laws for other products that make me question our legislature. A lot of laws are intended to stop people from selling baked goods made in home kitchens. I've seen a fair share of people attempt and sell homemade cakes, pies, cheesecakes, etc on my school's facebook group. I don't think they realize that it's illegal to do unless it's made in a certified commercial kitchen. Now begs the gap between enterprising to the public and enterprising to private parties. Should it be illegal for two consenting individuals to make a cash transaction for baked goods produced in a home kitchen? I think the answer should be no. In several states, there are now cottage food laws which allow people to sell stuff made in a personal kitchen. This is a step in the right direction, and the paperwork and fees are minimal.
Can't sell seeds in CA
You need a license to sell seeds in California
Now some products I just don't understand fully why so many licenses exist. I don't know what the laws are like regarding homegrown vegetables, but I know that it is illegal to sell and distribute seeds in the state of California without a license. I was contemplating selling seeds through this website as a side business -- I harvest quite a bit of seed from the balcony plants. It would have been easy to do this: pick seed from plant, package it up, and ship off after creating an online shop on the website. However, a quick search led me to this webpage and an application for the authority to sell seeds. Some of the points in the code include protecting biodiversity and preventing the spread of noxious weeds. Also it costs $40 + $0.25 for each $100 of estimated sales. What does that mean for potential seed entrepreneurs? You're out of luck, unless you produce large quantities.

Most of these laws act as entry barriers for the small man, this one is no exception. And for me with harvested lettuce, bok choy, and other seeds? I won't be selling them unless I want the FDA to bust down my door. Does this law protect the consumer, the corporation, or the environment? Small scale gardeners might be unaware of the law. Larger farms source their seed from wholesale companies or reuse it year after year. The law does include a provision regarding noxious weeds, but I hardly think that would be an issue if seeds are packaged and properly labeled. In this decade, a new seed provider emerges: the biotech company with genetic modification. I'm not against GMOs, but I think that the FDA should prioritize inspecting and testing genetically modified products over a small scale gardeners trying to cash out some seeds harvested from their favorite vegetable plant. At least there are many seed exchange programs through out the country where users swap seed with each other.
I love pizza
I'm sorry I cannot sell you this delicious pizza
In closing, it's obvious that it's pretty hard to sell home-produced products. For many products, like beer, the laws make sense. Alcoholic beverages have historically been controlled by the government for being a vice and the tax revenue (Especially the tax revenue!). Other products like bakery goods could potentially spread disease due to potentially dirty cooking conditions. However, a trust relationship between buyer and producer should be allowed if both parties are willing. Agricultural products are in a grey area where it seems intuitive to be able to sell, but is in fact illegal. To end a long story, it's nearly impossible to enterprise a home-based production business; the product of choice has to be something not bound by layers of red tape or potential lawsuits.

If you want to read more about the topic of wanting to sell things without a license, look up the book "Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal" by Joel Salatin. He does a good job covering weird laws and restrictions involving raw milk and housing.

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