Regulation Needed for Local Farmer’s Markets

TMA Testimony

House Agriculture and Livestock
House Bill 1382 By Rep. David Simpson
April 10, 2013
 

The Texas Medical Association, representing 47,000 physicians and medical students, appreciates the opportunity to comment on House Bill 1382 by Rep. David Simpson, changing the regulations for farmers markets and the foods available at farmers markets.

Farmers markets are an important part of Texas’ economy and provide Texans access to a wide variety of fresh foods and food products. Consuming locally grown and produced foods is not only good for the local economy but also helps meet the public’s demand for a variety of foods that can contribute to good health.

While farmers markets were once occasional markets for a few customers, today they are located in hundreds of urban and rural sites across Texas. And once primarily limited to seasonal fruits and vegetables, farmers markets now offer freshly cut and processed foods for sale, with samples of raw and prepared products offered to entice new customers.

The unique characteristics of today’s farmers market is appealing to Texans who know they may find local products not yet available in their grocery store. But with more farmers markets and more people routinely shopping at these markets, the public should be made aware the foods they sample and purchase do not have to comply with the food safety standards of products in retail food establishments as established by the state and local health departments.

 Physicians are first to diagnosis potential foodborne illness. While most of us who consume a contaminated food will experience only short-term symptoms, children, pregnant women, and people with chronic health conditions are more susceptible to severe illness and even death. Because of this, physicians support policies to ensure the public is appropriately informed about the safety of products sold at Texas’ farmers markets. We also look to existing federal and state guidance when it comes to basic food handling, preparation, and serving. We want to ensure legislation on this topic does not undermine current basic food safety strategies. 

Our recommendations are:

  • Signage and labeling must advise customers products sold at farmers markets may not be inspected by a local health authority for compliance with food safety standards of retail food establishments.
  • Farmer market owners’ and vendors’ contact information must be available to customers, along with how they can file a complaint regarding a purchased product. The local health department must be authorized to inspect complaints.
  • Owners, managers, and vendors of farmers markets must complete a certified food manager program.
  • Vendors should be limited or prohibited from selling potentially hazardous foods such as raw milk. High-risk foods, including poultry, meat, seafood, and dairy, are all especially susceptible to bacteria growth. Maintaining a safe temperature is fundamental to preventing bacteria from multiplying. At a minimum, these foods should not be provided without public assurances of safe transport, and testing in the case of raw milk.

We appreciate the opportunity to comment on this legislation. Texans should have access to locally grown foods and the opportunity to make healthy food choices. These goals should be balanced with the need to ensure the food is safe to consume. TMA looks forward to staying engaged in this topic to promote both access and safety.

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