Farmers Markets Face Few Federal Regulations

Farmers markets have quickly emerged as a thriving and profitable way for small, local farmers to make lasting connections with local consumers. While the overall number of national farmers markets has exploded in recent years, food safety regulations have not caught up, leaving many markets badly under regulated.

According to U.S. Department of Agriculture reports, the number of farmers markets has nearly doubled over the last five years, rising to over 7,000 nationwide. While the USDA and the Food and Drug Administration set broad federal safety guidelines, the bulk of the regulatory power and authority falls to individual states. This regulatory division has become problematic as states are cutting spending and oversight to reduce budgetary gaps.

The past few years have seen a slew of food related illnesses make national news. Most famously, a Colorado cantaloupe farm was linked to the worst outbreak of listeria in modern history, killing dozens and sickening hundreds nationwide.

With foodborne illness outbreaks constantly in the news, many consumers are asking tougher questions about the safety of the food they eat. Farmers markets are quickly emerging as a target of this increased awareness. Investigations into 29 farmers markets across 10 states done by the Scripps Howard News Service found that nearly 2/3 hadn’t been inspected in over a year, that 1/3 lacked basic hand washing equipment, that many vendors were selling perishable goods without coolers or refrigerator units, and that some farmers were selling goods as pet food to get around certification and inspection requirements.

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer