Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Large commercial food producers trying to pass off farmers' markets items as locally grown

The growth of farmers' markets has led to widespread allegations of fraud, with mass-produced items being marketed as locally grown, Amy Mathews Amos reports for Civil Eats. "Collectively, farmers’ markets are now big business, growing from 1,744 markets in 1994 to 8,268 in 2014 according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And with that growth has come incentive for fraud; in particular, vendors passing off produce as locally grown, when in fact those tomatoes, heads of lettuce, or peaches grew far from the vendors’ fields."

"It’s unclear how widespread vendor misrepresentation is nationally, but anecdotal information from market managers and farmers around the country, suggest that it’s common—and often goes undetected," Amos writes. "Usually, misrepresentation involves supplementing farmer-grown crops while slipping in others grown elsewhere and hoping no one will notice, such as selling mass-produced cucumbers among local heirloom tomatoes. Mass-produced goods from a wholesaler generally are cheaper than those just-picked by a small, local producer. Yet produce at farmers’ markets can fetch a premium price from customers who value freshness and want to support local agriculture. Supplementation allows vendors to increase their profit margins by passing off cheaper goods they didn’t produce as their own, and pocketing the premium."

Catching offenders is difficult, Amos writes. "State laws vary and many states leave producer requirements up to individual markets. But farmers and markets across the country that want to participate in the federal Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program, do have to meet certain basic requirements for locally produced food. FMNP is designed to provide low-income consumers, such as those receiving federal aid under the Women, Infants, and Children supplemental nutrition program or low-income seniors, access to fresh local produce."

"State agencies administer the program, but federal rules define 'locally grown' to mean produce grown in-state (or in some cases, adjacent states), and require states to conduct annual on-site monitoring of at least 10 percent of participating farmers and markets," Amos writes. "The rules provide little guidance on what that monitoring should entail."

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