Artisan Yogurt Producer Choked Out of Business By Bureaucratic Red Tape


Photo: Mom the Barbarian

Just as it seems we may be moving back toward some sort of food culture in a nation plagued by the side effects of big Ag, red tape chokes another small producer out of business. Take the story of artisan yogurt producer Homa Dashtaki, recently written up in The Economist. Dashtaki makes the kind of artfully created yogurt that makes a foodie sing. But while Big Ag can dump endless supplies of pesticides on genetically modified produce, Dashtaki is called to shut down immediately or risk prosecution for making her artfully prepared yogurt.Homa Dashtaki started a tiny artisan yogurt business, named The White Moustache, for her father. According to The Economist, she had yet to make a profit, as she brought in $300 in revenue a week, before she was called to shut down.

[S]he encountered that other American tradition, red tape (after the red bands that used to hold bundles of bureaucratic papers together in the old days). For although she had spent a year getting the required permits from Orange County, she had, it turned out, yet to make the acquaintance of the "milk and dairy food safety branch" of the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA). On a Saturday morning in March, Ms Dashtaki got a call and was told to shut down or risk prosecution.

It's a keen example of pushing a start up down when it's what we need the most. Again, The Economist:

Her business, while it lasted, consisted of herself, making yogurt on the instructions of her father. Ms Dashtaki was renting space in the kitchen of an Egyptian restaurant where she and her father, "like elves before and after their working hours", lovingly cultured their yogurt under a blanket, then drained it through a certain kind of cheese cloth, then stirred it for hours, and so forth. For the taste to be divine, everything has to be just so. And, being artisans, they kept the volume tiny, about 20 gallons (76 litres) a week, for sale only at local farmers' markets.

Dashtaki was willing to comply with necessary regulations until she learned what they were. In fact, the out-of-date regulations, which had been enacted in 1947, required that all yogurt go through an elaborate pasteurization system. The only problem was that Dashtaki's yogurt wasn't starting from a raw product; the milk had already been pasteurized. The regulation required that her $300 per week business set up a Grade A dairy plant just as large manufacturers would do, an entirely ridiculous proposition. Even though the yogurt had already been pasturized, Dashtaki was unable to get a waiver.

Dashtaki is considering moving out of California to another state with more realistic laws, but for now she's in a holding pattern. It's time to take a step back and look at who's getting hurt by such antiquated and downright absurd laws.

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Tags: Buy Local | Farmers Markets | Food Safety

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