With industry reporting that sales of “local foods” more than doubled from 2008 to 2014, concerns about public safety also increased, spurring the U.S. Department of Agriculture to offer almost $5 million in new food safety grants. The money is to help smaller operations comply with new food safety guidelines established by the Food and Drug Administration under the Food Safety Modernization Act, according to the USDA’s grant announcement. The smallest operations are specifically exempted from most of the FDA’s new requirements and rules. However, retailers, restaurants and school districts are increasingly demanding that local suppliers meet certain food safety requirements In addition to small and mid-sized farms, the grant program is intended to help beginning farmers, socially disadvantaged farmers, small processors, small fresh fruit and vegetable merchant wholesalers, food hubs and farmers markets. As the local food movement has been growing, so has the federal government’s budget for activities described in the USDA’s grant announcement as “providing consumers a stronger connection to their food.” Since 2009, the USDA has spent more than $1 billion on more than 40,000 local and regional food businesses and infrastructure projects. “As growing demand for local food creates new economic opportunities for small farms, beginning farmers, and others, we are committed to ensuring that all types of farmers and businesses have the tools they need to be successful,” Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack said in the grant announcement Monday. “By supporting projects that offer tailored training, education, and technical assistance for producers and processors of local food, these grants will benefit producers, the entire food supply chain, and consumers.” According to the USDA, the grant money is supposed to help smaller operations comply with new food safety guidelines established by the Food and Drug Administration under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). However, small operations are specifically exempted from most of the FDA’s new requirements and rules. The grants are offered through the USDA’s Food Safety Outreach Program and administered by its National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). Applications are due June 2. See the request for applications on the NIFA website for more information. Three types of projects are eligible to receive funding through the new grant program:
- Pilot projects will support the development and implementation of new and potentially high-risk, high-impact food safety education and outreach programs in local communities that address the needs of small, specialized audiences from among the various target groups.
- Community outreach projects will focus on the growth and expansion of already-existing food safety education and outreach programs that are currently offered in local communities.
- Multistate education and training projects will support the development and implementation of multi-county, state-wide, or multi-state food safety education and outreach programs where there are common food safety concerns, but the states are not necessarily located within the same regions.
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