As with any industry, regulations are a necessary part of food processing. If regulations are well-crafted, they can protect public health, workers, the environment, and other community interests, and they can create a level playing field. The regulatory system around food processing includes regulations covering many topic areas including but not limited to food safety, worker safety, water quality, taxes, land use, and others.
While food processing-related regulations are intended to ensure consistency and safety in the industry, these regulations can present small-scale food producers and processors with challenges. The complex nature of the regulatory environment poses challenges in navigating and understanding regulatory obligations. For small businesses, the costs associated with regulatory compliance can be onerous. Improvements to the regulatory environment will remove obstacles and introduce efficiencies for food system businesses.
Recommendation 1.1: Reform food processing regulations.
Action 1.1.1: Clarify guiding regulatory codes and identify where modifications might be made. These should include federal, State, and local regulations that address a range of areas, from public health to building codes, with respect to business types and scales.
Action 1.1.2: Develop a publicly-available inventory of food processing-related regulations that identifies relevant regulations and codes by business types. This could be in the form of a searchable digital interface.
Action 1.1.3: Make building codes appropriately scaled for businesses of different sizes. In particular, review and reform the State Plumbing Code.
Action 1.1.4: Develop streamlined regulatory processes for multi-use facilities, such as shared kitchens and food trucks.
Action 1.1.5: Encourage the use of existing small production kitchens such as in Grange halls, churches and schools, where foods could be manufactured or developed in compliance with the State food code.
Action 1.1.6: Review and revise regulations relative to meat and poultry processing.
Action 1.1.7: Apply for the federal program enabling sale of State-inspected meat across state lines.
Action 1.1.8: Review state and local food processing regulations in other states to inform regulation reform in Massachusetts and in New England.
Recommendation 1.2: Establish consistency in the enforcement of regulations.
Action 1.2.1: Increase ongoing training of local and state regulators in 21st century agricultural and food issues. Increase training of farmers, agriculture commissions, and others in public health and food safety.
Action 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.
Action 1.2.3: Increase the number of inspectors and their capacity to work with the private sector together to build toward compliance.
Action 1.2.4: Move regulation of slaughter oversight to MDAR, and create a state inspection program.
Recommendation 1.3: Make navigation of the regulatory environment easier across agencies and levels of government, and improve dissemination of regulatory information.
Action 1.3.1: Review and clarify the language of Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) regulations, which are currently vague.
Action 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.
Recommendation 1.4: Improve communication systems for regulators.
Action 1.4.1: Develop and improve training programs for technical assistance providers, relying on UMass Extension and other food product and food processing service providers.
Action 1.4.2: Develop systems for cross-agency collaboration.
Action 1.4.3: Support communication between regulators, and develop forums where they do not exist.