Is Texas’ Definition of ‘Pickle’ Screwing Over Small Farmers?
Once again, bureaucratic absurdity is putting small business owners in a pickle. This time, the problem is how the State of Texas defines the word 'pickle' and the impact that definition has had on small farmers.
When I came across this article from Shannon Najmabadi with the Texas Tribune, I almost couldn't believe what I was reading. Here's the gist.
Anita and Jim McHaney of Hearne, Texas retired in 2013. They bought a patch of land and started farming it with hopes of living off earnings from selling their produce at local famer's markets.
Things were going great, though they were having difficulties growing cucumbers. No matter, they thought. They'd just pickle their other crops, particularly their beets. Pickled stuff could sell year-round, and the process is easy and fun.
That's when they hit a wall of asinine red tape.
Back in 2013, Texas' legislature passed a law allowing people grossing less than $50,000 at year selling certain food products to operate without the burden of becoming licensed food manufacturers.
Fantastic idea, right? Well, it was until the Department of State Health Services got involved. Their job was to set the official rules and guidelines for the law.
Here's a snippet from the FAQ section of their website.
Yes, you read that correctly. "Only pickled cucumbers are allowed under the Cottage Food Law. All other pickled vegetables are prohibited."
Democratic Representative Eddie Rodriguez, the man responsible for authoring the 2013 Cottage Food Law, told the Texas Tribune:
“That pickle definition is kind of flying in the spirit of the legislation."
“I don’t know if this was an intentional thing on the department’s part or not, but if the net effect of it is to really narrow the legislation in a way that was not my intent ... they may be legislating a bit by rule.”
When Najmabadi reached out to the health services department for comment, she was told the agency simply used "the most common and generally understood definition of pickles: cucumbers".
Mindless bureaucracy at work, folks.
The McHaney's shut down their farming operation, citing the inability to sell pickled items as a major drain on profitability. They haven't given up, though. They filed a lawsuit Thursday against the health services department.
“Somebody had to push," Jim McHaney told Najmabadi, "[A]nd waiting for somebody to push for you wasn't working for us."
Why am I sharing this story? Well, one of the things that makes me so proud to be a Texan is our business-friendly environment. When I see stories like this, I'm reminded of how much havoc thoughtless, out-of-touch bureaucrats can wreak upon small businesses.
I'm not of the mindset that government should never take a roll in ensuring safety and quality when it comes to consumer protection, but when you have careless people making up rules without any thought for the way their words will be interpreted under the law, it can destroy livelihoods and discourage entrepreneurship.
Thankfully, the McHaneys are being represented by attorneys working pro bono, and Rep. Rodriguez may revisit this legislation in the 2019 session.