Rachel RespondsSeptember 22, 2018

Local interpretations of a food safety-related rule.

Question:

What if I don't agree with my local regulators or inspectors about their interpretation of a food-safety related rule?

Answer:

First, communicate with them! Regulators and inspectors are human beings making decisions in an imperfect world. As an ally, your inspector may help you better understand laws by explaining the reasoning behind their interpretation. This may help you better explain how your operation is compatible with the rule they are following. It's rarely helpful to go into your regulator's office and give them a piece of your mind. Get to know your regulator and their environment. Make sure you're familiar with the relevant laws. Learn how the regulations have been applied to farmers in your community.

If working together to achieve mutual understanding fails, consider applying for an exception to the decision or appealing it. You can often get around restrictive decisions, codes, or rules by requesting individual variances, which are one-time exemptions from the code granted to a specific person. Oftentimes, you can go up the chain of command and file a formal complaing or write a letter of appeal. Attorneys can help you with this and are highly recommended. A good attorney can help you present a focused, persuasive case.

Third, you can try to change the rules! Get together with others in your community and petition the appropriate public officials. Through word-of-mouth, people can encourage other farmers to contact elected officials. Those who want the law changed can organize public meetings, and attend the meetings of local officials. When officials hear from enough people, they'll realize this is a significant issue and take action.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Farm Commons' Dealing with Regulators tipsheet provides detailed suggestions for the strategies discussed here, from talking one-on-one with regulators to campaigning for changes in the rules.

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