Working Group on Farming and Public Health

Throughout the planning process, many discussions focused on the balance between protecting public safety through health regulations, and supporting the growth and sustainability of farms and food businesses at all scales. Because of the complexity of this topic, the Plan did not attempt to resolve it, but rather offered a set of recommendations for how to address it. Given the amount of interest in finding solutions to this challenge, the Collaborative chose it as one of its first projects, establishing the Working Group on Farming and Public Health.

The Collaborative engaged Patrick Field, a mediator and facilitator at the Consensus Building Institute, to lead the project. Field began by conducting interviews with key stakeholders in public health and agriculture, to identify the challenges and begin to discuss possible solutions, and inviting those stakeholders to join a Working Group that would hold several face-to-face meetings to work toward common ground. Those interviews led to a briefing document which is informing meetings of the Working Group, and a focus group with farming and public health practitioners.

The Working Group will be meeting through the end of 2016, when it will determine how to best proceed based upon its discussions and findings.

The Working Group's efforts are based on these recommendations from the Plan:

Key Action Item

Farming 2.3.7: Create a professionally-facilitated working group that includes representatives from the fields of public health and food systems, as well as regulatory agencies, to develop a proposal to improve regulatory oversight of the local food system with respect to public health. This proposal should address: (1) Actions to achieve consistent, science-based state and local regulations that are developed by practitioners and public health professionals concerning animal slaughter, on-farm processing, product aggregation, farmers markets, and other relevant issues that may be identified. (2)Requirements for training local regulators in food system practices and current science, and a plan for developing resources for doing so. (3) Requirements for training local regulators to enforce regulations consistently and, wherever possible, to offer resources to remedy concerns before taking punitive action. (4) A requirement for public review of new regulations that is timely and transparent, involves affected stakeholders early on, and includes at least one public hearing. (5) A system of checks and balances on local regulations and actions, including appeal processes. (6) Consideration of other, related issues as raised in this plan. The working group should present its proposal to the Food Policy Council, appropriate agencies within the state administration, and the legislature within nine months of the first working group meeting. The proposal should note whether or not state legislative or regulatory changes are needed to implement the proposal’s recommendations, and it should include a draft budget for implementation.

Other Relevant Action Items

Farming 2.3.7 Explore and implement options for credentialing of the local public health workforce, accreditation of local health departments, and regionalization of local public health services and regulations.

Processing 1.2.2 Explore and implement options for credentialing of the local public health workforce, accreditation of local health departments, and regionalization of local public health services and regulations, in order to increase capacity and expertise of local regulators.

Processing 1.3.2 Ensure that food processors are offered support when they seek support related to regulations. Provide resources, not penalties, as first line of action.

Distribution 5.2.1 Review and revise, with input from DPH, producers, and retailers, existing model policies that can be adopted by boards of health regarding specific or regional food safety concerns, and create new ones where needed there are gaps.

Distribution 5.2.2 Create clear expectations and interpretation of the food code, and a mandatory public process for issuing DPH and local BOH regulations so that all stakeholders are involved in the process of crafting and reviewing proposed regulations prior to implementation.

Distribution 5.3.2 Strengthen relationships between local boards of health, DPH, buy local organizations, and other organizations to share information and improve dialogue.

Distribution 5.4.2 Require training for all boards of health agents on the Massachusetts Food Code, food safety, best practices, and FSMA, conducted by DPH, MA Health Officers Association, and the MA Association of Health Boards.

Distribution 5.4.3 Provide state support and technical assistance to local boards of health developing food safety regulations.

Distribution 5.4.4 Fund and build capacity of regional organizations to provide food safety and handling training that is accessible to all boards of health in each region.