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Vermont Agency of Agriculture Awarded $500,000 to Develop Produce Safety Program

On September 9, 2016, the United States Food & Drug Administration (FDA) awarded the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets $500,000 to develop a Vermont State Produce Safety Program. The award will support Vermont in its collaboration with FDA to cooperatively implement the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Safety Rule. $500,000 is the first award of a planned five-year, $3.625 million investment in Vermont’s program by FDA, pending Congressional budget allocation.

This award will allow the Vermont Agency of Agriculture to prepare a multi-year plan for a comprehensive produce safety program; establish a Vermont produce farm inventory; develop a strategy for outreach, education, and technical assistance to all Vermont farms that grow covered produce; and develop an inspectional program for farms that must comply with the rule. The Agency will work closely with local organizations, such as the Vermont Farm Bureau, University of Vermont Extension, and other state agencies throughout the Northeast on program development and implementation of outreach, education and technical assistance. 

“Vermont’s fruit and vegetable growers are an essential part of our local agricultural economy,” said Governor Peter Shumlin. “These funds will enable Vermont to build a produce safety program that protects consumer health, while also addressing the needs of our local, small-scale producers.”

In addition to this award, Vermont has been selected as a pilot state to assess producer readiness for compliance with the Produce Safety Rule through an on-farm readiness review program that will provide education and technical assistance to growers beginning during the 2017 growing season. “Vermont Farm Bureau looks forward to working with Vermont Agency of Agriculture on FSMA rule implementation,” said Vermont Farm Bureau President Joe Tisbert and owner/operator of Valley Dream Farm in Cambridge, Vermont. “We commend FDA for choosing Vermont as one of the pilot states for developing on-farm education and technical assistance to help producers comply with the Produce Safety Rule.”

The Vermont Agency of Agriculture and Secretary Chuck Ross have played key roles in the development of the final FSMA Produce Safety Rule and FDA’s approach to educating before and while regulating. This ongoing effort to order to ensure an implementation strategy that is feasible for small-scale diversified agriculture in Vermont and New England reflects the Agency’s commitment to protecting the Vermont brand and its reputation for quality.

“FSMA represents an important nationwide investment in food safety,” said Secretary of Agriculture, Chuck Ross. “My agency colleagues and I have worked closely with the FDA since 2011 to ensure that these new food safety rules are not only effective in reducing foodborne illness, but can also be realistically and successfully implemented by diversified and small-scale producers, like many of the farms throughout Vermont and New England. This initial award will allow us to begin building a comprehensive produce safety program that meets the needs of Vermont producers and prioritizes education before and during regulation.” 

The FSMA Produce Safety Rule was finalized in November 2015 and impacts farms and other businesses that grow, harvest, pack, or hold fresh produce. Larger growers will need to comply with the rule in 2018, while smaller growers have additional time to come into compliance.

FDA awarded a total of $21.8 million to 42 states in Federal fiscal year 2016 to begin implementing the Produce Safety Rule. Vermont will receive the maximum amount for which it could apply based on the number of farms growing fresh fruits and vegetables covered by the rule. To view FDA’s news release for the award, visit http://go.usa.gov/xKeuH.

For more information about FSMA and Produce Safety in Vermont, please visit:  http://go.usa.gov/xKeu6 and http://go.usa.gov/xKeuF (case sensitive URLs).