On July 2, 2020, Governor Scott signed Act 129 (H.656) into law. The legislation changed the definition of “local” and equivalent terms like “locally grown,” “local to Vermont,” and “made in Vermont” to better define Vermont food. The clarity should also help protect the value and craftsmanship of Vermont’s food and agricultural producers and processors. The new definition makes “local” synonymous with “Vermont” with respect to food products. It also offers opportunities to celebrate Vermont’s brand and recognize the value of buying Vermont products.
We are gathering feedback from producers and businesses on the impact of this legislation. Below are answers to some frequently asked questions as well as contact information for submitting questions or concerns to our Agency.
On Tuesday, February 2, the Agency of Agriculture and Attorney General’s Office of Consumer Protection held a webinar about the new changes to the State’s official definition of “local”. In this hour-long webinar, we went over a summary of the changes to the definition and answered participant questions on business impacts, compliance and more.
Frequently Asked Questions
When did this law go into effect?
July 1, 2020. However, a person or company who sells or markets food impacted by a change in the law had until January 1, 2021 to utilize existing product labels or packaging materials and come into compliance.
What food is considered a “Raw Agricultural Product”?
A “raw agricultural product” is any food in its raw or natural state without added ingredients, including pasteurized or homogenized milk, maple sap or syrup, honey, meat, eggs, apple cider, and fruits or vegetables that may be washed, colored, or otherwise treated in their unpeeled natural form prior to marketing. Please review this fact sheet and Act 129 of 2020 to better understand the requirements that determine when raw agricultural products are properly considered “local” and/or “Vermont” food.
In the “raw agricultural product” definition, what does “exclusively grown or tapped” mean?
It means that one hundred percent of the raw food product was grown or tapped in Vermont.
Does “Meat” include Poultry?
Yes. “Meat” is not specifically defined in the pertinent law, but non-milk food products derived from animals—including meat—are “local” or “Vermont” food when they satisfy the related requirements. Products derived from animals include but are not limited to meat from poultry, fish, rabbit, beef, lamb, and pigs.
What does a “substantial period” of an animal’s life mean?
An animal that is harvested in Vermont and lived in the State for at least one third of its life or one year spent a “substantial period of its life” in Vermont. Animals must be raised in Vermont for a substantial period of their lives for the raw agricultural products derived from them to be considered “local” or “Vermont” food.
If I raised animals that meet the raw agricultural product definition but processed those animals out of state, would they still be considered local?
It depends. If the meat is simply being cut up out of state to be sold as a raw agriculture product in Vermont, then Vermont raised animals would produce “local” or “Vermont” meat. But, if the animals were being turned into processed food, then out-of-state processing would not satisfy the in-state processing prong for being a “local” or “Vermont” food. However, if a company with Vermont headquarters raised Vermont animals, it could sell meat from Vermont animals as a “local” or “Vermont” product if the processing occurred out of state.
Can I bring a raw product (such as lobster) back from another state and claim it as "local" if my business is a Vermont business?
It depends upon a variety of factors, but raw lobster could only be “Vermont” or “local” lobster if derived from an animal that spent a substantial period of its life in Vermont, meaning the animal was harvested in Vermont and lived in Vermont for at least one third of its life or one year—an unlikely occurrence given the practical realities of lobstering. Similarly, other “raw agricultural products” must also be from Vermont—as specifically defined in statute—to be considered “local” or “Vermont” food.
Processed foods are not simply a raw agricultural product. Instead, they have added ingredients, are subject to processing, and/or involve substantial transformation of the ingredients. This transformation from raw to processed food results in the application of different standards to define “local” or “Vermont” food. For most processed food, a majority of its ingredients (by volume, excluding water) must be from Vermont for the final product to be “local” or “Vermont” food. For beverages, baked products, and “unique food products,” Vermont ingredients may not be available, and a company with Vermont headquarters that processed its food in Vermont may produce “local” or “Vermont” food without using Vermont ingredients.
In the lobster example, shelling, cutting, or preparing a lobster is unlikely to constitute the type of “substantial transformation” that could qualify it as a “unique food product” that could satisfy the criteria of “local” or “Vermont” food.
How do wild foods fit into this definition?
Wild foods (like mushrooms, foraged greens, or spring fiddleheads) are raw agricultural products and are “local” or “Vermont” foods when exclusively gathered in Vermont. They can also be used as local ingredients when making processed foods.
What is “processed food”?
In its simplest terms, any food that is not a “raw agricultural product” is “processed.” Moreover, processed foods also include raw agricultural products that have been subject to processing, such as canning, cooking, dehydrating, milling, or adding other ingredients. Processed foods include processed dairy, meat, maple products, beverages, fruit, or vegetables, bakery products, and foods modified into a value-added or “unique food products.” Please review this fact sheet and Act 129 of 2020 to better understand the requirements that determine when processed food is properly considered “local” and/or “Vermont” food.
If I make ground sausage, is it a “raw agricultural product” or “processed food”?
It depends on whether you simply grind the meat or add ingredients. “Raw agricultural product” generally means food in its raw or natural state without added ingredients, so once ingredients are added to meat it becomes “processed food.”
What is a “Unique Food Product”?
“Unique food products” are a type of processed food. Specifically, they are foods processed in Vermont from ingredients not regularly produced in Vermont or not available in sufficient quantities to meet production requirements. This designation is designed to address foods that are processed in Vermont but unable to utilize a majority of Vermont ingredients. When raw Vermont ingredients are unavailable, a food processed in Vermont can still be “local” or “Vermont” food when it satisfies the “unique food” criteria. Similarly, baked goods and beverages that are not made from a majority of Vermont ingredients can be “local” or “Vermont” food provided they satisfy the remaining requirements. Please review this fact sheet and Act 129 of 2020 to understand the requirements that determine when unique food products are properly considered “local” and/or “Vermont” food.
What does “substantial transformation” mean?
The term “substantial transformation” is not defined in the relevant law, but the following related federal definition should provide reasonable guidance: substantial transformation occurs when a new and different food product emerges from a process with a new name, character, or use different from that possessed by the ingredients prior to processing.
What is a company’s headquarters?
The term “headquarters” is not defined in the pertinent law, but companies should know where their headquarters are located and whether they are in Vermont. Generally, a company’s headquarters is its main office or center of operations. A company that only operates in Vermont is necessarily “headquartered” in Vermont regardless of whether it refers to its main office as “headquarters.”
I believe a business is not following the new local definition or is mislabeling a product, what should I do?
If you have a question or concern about the local definition and wondering how it applies to a business, first contact the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets. However, the Attorney General’s Office is responsible for enforcement associated with local definition compliance. If you have questions or concerns about an enforcement matter or want to file a complaint, please contact the Consumer Protection Division at the Vermont Attorney General’s Office by email at the following address: AGO.VermontLabeling@vermont.gov.
I purchased product labels for my business before this new definition went into effect, what should I do?
Generally speaking, a person or company who sells or markets food impacted by the change in the “local” food definition must have utilized all previously purchased product labels or packaging materials and be in compliance as of January 1, 2021.
If labels were purchased and applied prior to implementation of the new law businesses are permitted – within reason – to exhaust those supplies. All labels purchased after implementation must reflect the new law. If you have further questions about your product labels, please contact the Consumer Protection Division at the Vermont Attorney General’s Office by email at the following address: AGO.VermontLabeling@vermont.gov.
May I use “local” to define my product as “local” to a region other than Vermont?
Yes. The key is to ensure that any alternate representation of origin is accurate, and that the location of the food’s origin is identified and denoted as prominently as the word “local.”
If the alternate “local” region has defined political boundaries—like a town, city, county, or a collection of States (like New England)—then the region must be identified and the product must be grown or made within those defined boundaries. Some examples are “Locally Made in Newport,” “Locally Grown in Bennington,” or “Local New England Pears.”
If a “local” representation refers to a region that is not precisely defined by political boundaries (like “The Valley”), then the region must be prominently described when the representation is made, or the product must have been grown or made within 30 miles of the point of sale (measured directly point to point). Some examples are “Made with Corn Local to the Champlain Valley” or “Local Upper Valley Apples.” In these instances, if the food product originated more than 30 miles from the point of sale, then the geographic contours of the “Champlain Valley” or “Upper Valley” must also be described so it is clear where the product is from.
What if my food business includes the word "Vermont" in my company title? How does this change impact my company title?
Company names are not impacted by this legislation and are subject to the Vermont Origins Rule. Likewise, use of the term “Vermont” with respect to non-food products continue to be subject to the Vermont Origins Rule. Please consult Vermont Origin Rule—FAQs (Revised 7/7/06) to learn more. Any further questions about the Origin Rule should be directed to the Attorney General’s Office at AGO.Vermontlabeling@vermont.gov.