The Food Safety and Modernization Act meets Opposition from Local Governments

By: Colby Khoshreza, Staff Member

A growing movement towards food safety, which was kicked into high gear last year with the passage of the Food Safety and Modernization Act, has been met with some resistance by several local governments who have recently passed food sovereignty ordinances.  The ordinances raise a challenge to state and federal regulations, which mandate inspection and licensing requirements as tools to promote food safety. 

Over the past year, over eight towns in Maine have passed local food and community self governance ordinances that give more control over how small farms and local food producers sell their crops to the general public.[1]  In opposition to federal and state laws, which often require at least some level of regulation, the ordinances permit growers and food producers to sell their products without licenses, permits or inspections.[2]  The local ordinances essentially give farmers approval to bypass state and federal regulatory requirements when their products are sold directly to consumers.[3] 

Currently, three states have towns and cities that have passed similar ordinances.[4]  Towns in Vermont, California and Maine have all passed similar ordinances in the past year.[5]  The ordinances lessen standards on the local farmers thus allowing them to avoid making expensive upgrades and investments necessary to meet state and federal food safety requirements.  Upgrades such as new cooling systems, septic systems and other equipment, commonly cost tens of thousands of dollars, a huge burden on small producers who only sell their produce to a limited number of consumers.[6]

These enactments bring into question the validity of the ordinances in light of state and federal laws, including the recently enacted Food Safety and Modernization Act, which require inspection, licensing and regulation of food production and sale.  State agriculture officials in Maine have deemed the ordinances ineffective as state and federal law supersede them.[7]  However, warnings from state officials about the invalidity of the food sovereignty laws have not necessarily deterred towns and their residents from passing further ordinances; two were just enacted last month.[8]  

This movement by local towns, many of which are heavily based in small farming, is likely a reaction to increased regulatory efforts enacted by both the Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture in the last couple of years.  Much of the new regulation requires additional upgrades, which means increased costs for food producers both domestically and abroad.  While some of the regulations are tedious and expensive, they are often not as onerous as some farmers make them out to be.  The ultimate goal of promoting consumer health and safety lends strong support to stringent regulatory standards and local ordinances such as these will likely fail when they do not meet state mandates in the areas of food safety.  

[1] More towns pass food sovereignty ordinances, MAINE BUSINESS NEWS SOURCE (June 22, 2012),
[2] Id. 
[3] Clarke Canfield, Some towns try to loosen reins on food producers, BUSINESS WEEK (June 22, 2012),
[4] Id. 
[5] Id. 
[6] Id. 
[7] Some towns looking to ordinances to make local farms exempt from state regulations, THE WASHINGTON POST (June 22, 2012)
[8] Id.