Before ending the 2020 session, the Legislature took the step of amending the Vermont Consumer Protection Act to refine the term “Local” in connection with labeling or advertising Vermont agricultural and food products. The new law amends 9 V.S.A. § 2465a, a statute enacted in 2008 within the Consumer Protection Act, that defines the terms “Local” and “Locally Grown.”
The new law makes clear that the terms “Local,” “Local to Vermont,” “Locally Grown,” or “Made in Vermont” mean that:
for raw agricultural products, the product must be grown, tapped, raised, produced, or collected in Vermont;
for processed foods (including baked goods, beverages, or unique food products):
(a) the majority of the ingredients are raw agricultural products that are Local to Vermont (see above); and
(b) either the product was processed or substantially transformed in Vermont or the company’s headquarters is located in Vermont.
This new law provides that if it affects your existing product, you can continue using existing (i.e., non-compliant) labels until January 1, 2021.
The law is subject to “guidance” that will be forthcoming from the Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets.
The above changes come against the backdrop of the existing “Vermont Origin Rule” (which came into effect in 2006) and the section of Vermont Consumer Protection Act that already defines “Local” (which came into effect in 2008). The new law does not necessarily override or supplant that Rule or statute.
The Vermont Origin Rule does not deal with the term “Local.” It deals with the term “Vermont.” It generally provides that if a label or advertisement claims that a product is “from” Vermont or “made” or “produced” in Vermont, the majority of its ingredients must be from Vermont or it must be processed or substantially transformed in Vermont.
The existing Consumer Protection Act section that already defines “Local” deals with geographic location. It provides that a product advertised as “Local” must be from a location no more than thirty (30) miles away from the point of sale. Or, if the term “Local” is used in connection with a specific area, e.g., “Local to New England,” the statement must be accurate.
The new law refines the existing Rule and statute to provide that labelling or advertising a product as “Local” refers not just to a geographic location, but deals with the nature, content, and essence of the product. In short, a product sold as “Local” in Vermont must actually be a “Vermont” product.
Lastly, all of the above comes against the larger backdrop of the primary thrust of the Vermont Consumer Protection Act, which provides that statements on labels or in advertising must be substantially true. Thus, if you say that your apricot preserves are “Locally Handcrafted With Love by Trappist Monks in Burlington, Vermont,” your statement must not only comply with the Vermont Origin Rule (dealing with “Vermont”) and the newly-amended 9 V.S.A. § 2465a (dealing with “Local”) but also with the Consumer Protection Act generally, which demands that your statements about “Trappist Monks” and “Burlington” are truthful.