Farmers Market Fix
By JOEL GROVER and MATT GOLDBERG
Updated 5:15 PM PST, Wed, Dec 15, 2010
A special government committee is now considering big changes to State laws that regulate farmers markets. The committee was formed to address widespread cheating at markets, that was first exposed by an NBCLA Undercover Investigation in September.
The committee held its second meeting on Wednesday in Torrance. And its members called for more frequent and better inspections of farmers markets.
NBCLA exposed that some farmers sell produce they claim is “locally grown,” even though its from foreign countries.
Other farmers have been caught labeling produce as “pesticide free” even though it was grown with pesticides.
The committee voted to have State Agriculture officials do inspections of farmers markets, in addition to the current visits done by county agriculture inspectors.
LA County Agriculture inspectors tell NBCLA they’re not given the time to adequately inspect markets and look for cheaters.
“The current process that’s in place needs to be revamped,” says Natalie Kroup-Greenberg, of the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
The special committee has also decided the state should require training and certification of the people who manage each farmers market, so they’re better equipped to spot farmers who might be misrepresenting their produce to consumers. Says John Silveira, a committee member and farmers market operator, “Certainly I would be an advocate of taking on more responsibility, just because its going to make the system more efficient.”
In January, the committee will meet again, and discuss more measures, like tougher penalties on farmers caught cheating consumers.
“This is the time to reassure our customers,” says committee member and farmer Miguel Loureiro.
The committee wants to have a final plan to overhaul the regulation of farmers markets, on the desk of the California Secretary of Agriculture, by the end of March.
Some of the changes it will likely propose, would then need to be approved by the State Legislature.