We have all seen products advertised as locally grown or locally raised at farmers markets and on menus of all manner of restaurants. But when can the term local be used, and what does it mean? Is a Delaware watermelon local or must a product advertised in Maryland as locally grown be from a Maryland farm? The U.S. Congress in the 2008 Food, Conservation, and Energy Act found that the total distance a product can be transported and still be considered a “locally or regionally produced agricultural food product” is fewer than 400 miles from its origin, or within the State in which it is produced. However, that definition has not been nationally adopted and has not been used to control labeling of products.
Back in 2010, at the request of Maryland Agriculture Secretary Earl F “Buddy” Hance and with unanimous approval from the State Legislature, the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) formed an advisory board to draft regulations on how and when agricultural products could be labeled “local.”
In June 2011, the regulations became effective and now require persons, including wholesalers, retailers, farmers markets, and restaurants who advertise agricultural products as “local” to disclose certain information about that product.
Specifically, a person may not advertise an agricultural product as “local” or “locally grown” unless the advertisement includes a disclosure of the place of origin of the product, which means the state where the product was grown or raised or, in the case of fish or shellfish, the state where the product was raised or landed. This prohibition applies to raw meat, eggs, fish, fruits, vegetables, shellfish, and processed dairy products. Processed foods do not fall under this regulation. A person who knowingly violates the local labeling regulation is guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to a fine not to exceed $500 or imprisonment not exceeding three months or both.
According to an article in the Baltimore Sun from January 5, 2011, MDA officials had originally hoped to define local more exactly (by mileage, for instance), but the designation became problematic. For now, whether a local watermelon was grown in Maryland or Delaware is all the information legally required; as to what exactly local means, the State has left that decision up to the individual consumer. Although MDA has not defined local food, they can help you find it with the help of this website which allows consumers to search for locally agricultural products by county and city: http://marylandsbest.net/.