There's a debate going on at Portland Food and Drink over the potential for new regulations governing farmers' markets in Oregon. Apparently the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) is considering plans to draft new food safety regulations for farmer’s markets, starting with the 2008 season. It has done so with a great deal of input from the Northwest Grocery Association, a grocery industry lobbying group that has experienced significant competition from the popularity of farmers' markets in the state.
In these plans, the ODA has proposed increasing its authority over farmers’ markets by licensing farmers’ market associations as a class of "retail food establishments." As Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm explains in his letter on the blog:
"Farmers’ markets are not a regulatory desert. Currently, all 'potentially hazardous' foods are sold by licensed vendors. These include meat, fish, processed foods, bakery goods and dairy products. The weighted system of license fees already exacts a heavier toll on small producers. Farmers who sell fresh fruits and vegetables they grow themselves are exempt from licensing. If a vendor started selling oranges from California and melons from Costa Rica, that vendor would lose the exemption and have to obtain a 'retail food establishment' license. Most, if not all, farmers’ markets prohibit this sort of resale activity categorically. County health inspectors license and regulate restaurant stalls at the markets. Because farmers’ market associations act as agents for the landowner, and do not buy, sell or handle food, they have never been defined as 'retail food establishments.'"
He then suggests three simple avenues for letting your views be known to those who are considering these changes. Because the proposed regulations would seriously affect the function and viability of farmers' markets in Oregon, it's well worth taking your time to read the article.