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New Legal Resource Assists Farmers and Food Producers with Food Safety Compliance

https://elsi.necafs.org

Today Vermont Law School’s Center for Agriculture and Food Systems (CAFS) and University of Vermont Extension’s Northeast Center to Advance Food Safety (NECAFS) announced the launch of a free legal resource for farmers and food producers. Available at elsi.necafs.org, the new website features fact sheets that answer pressing legal questions about food safety compliance.     

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which became law in 2011, has been the most sweeping overhaul of U.S. federal food safety laws in seven decades. One important component is the Produce Safety Rule, which governs the growing, harvesting, packing, and holding of produce grown for human consumption.     

“Farmers and food producers are now facing new rules and regulatory inspections, many for the first time, said Sophia Kruszewski, director of Vermont Law School’s Food and Agriculture Clinic. “This raises new questions not only from the producers, but from the regulators and educators they work with.”     

“As new regulations were rolled out over the past few years, our teams at NECAFS and CAFS had been fielding many legal questions from the produce community—particularly from technical service providers wanting to understand some of FSMA’s legal ambiguities and grey areas,” said Elizabeth Newbold, assistant director of NECAFS. “We quickly realized the need for these stakeholders to gain clarity.”     

NECAFS and CAFS teamed up to launch the Extension Legal Services initiative in 2018. The project aims to identify the most common questions, conduct the legal research needed to answer them, and develop educational materials disseminating key information. Students in Vermont Law School’s Food and Agriculture Clinic, which is based at CAFS, were deeply involved. “This initiative provided an important educational opportunity for our students, who will now go out into the world with some practical experience in an area so critical to food production,” said CAFS Director Laurie Beyranevand.     

The new website houses an interactive map illustrating the specifics of each U.S. state’s produce safety program, as well as seven fact sheets covering:                 

  • The relationship between FDA rules, guidance, and other communications;  
  • Produce farms, foodborne illness, and legal liability;
  • Produce Safety Rule inspections and third-party audits;
  • Produce Safety Rule coverage and exemptions for farms with multiple business entities; 
  • Alternatives and variances to the Produce Safety Rule;
  • How to use the FDA Technical Assistance Network and the Freedom of Information Act to access information about the Food Safety Modernization Act; and
  • Supply chain program requirements for processors and their produce suppliers.  

“At CAFS, we aim to empower farmers and food producers by making complex legal topics more accessible,” Kruszewski said. “We're excited to add this website to our growing list of free online tools.” 

To view additional CAFS resources, visit vermontlaw.edu/cafs-projects. To access NECAFS resources, visit uvm.edu/extension/necafs. To inquire about direct legal assistance, visit the Vermont Legal Food Hub at legalfoodhub.org.  

This project is funded by the National Agricultural Library, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture.   

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About the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems (CAFS)   

Vermont Law School’s Center for Agriculture and Food Systems (CAFS) uses law and policy to build a more sustainable and just food system. In partnership with local, regional, national, and international partners, CAFS addresses food system challenges related to food justice, food security, farmland access, animal welfare, worker protections, the environment, and public health, among others. CAFS works closely with its partners to provide legal services that respond to their needs and develop resources that empower the communities they serve. Through CAFS’ Food and Agriculture Clinic and Research Assistant program, students work directly on projects alongside partners nationwide, engaging in innovative work that spans the food system. Visit www.vermontlaw.edu/cafs to learn more.     

About the Northeast Center to Advance Food Safety (NECAFS)     

NECAFS, housed at the University of Vermont Extension, is one of four USDA funded regional centers tasked with coordinating training, education and outreach related to the FSMA Produce Safety Rule (PSR) and the FSMA Preventive Controls for Human Foods (PCHF) Rule. NECAFS’ work focuses on coordination and facilitation of the Northeast regional network to support a national food safety training, education, extension, outreach, and technical assistance system among small and medium-sized producers and small processors.