February 16, 2021

Vermont Legislature Redefines the Meaning of "Local"

In its infinite wisdom, the Vermont legislature last year re-defined the term “local” as it relates to food and products sold in Vermont. The new definition is codified at 9 V.S.A. § 2465a. See Vermont Laws

It is now illegal for a grocer in Brattleboro to sell an ear of corn grown in Keene, New Hampshire, or jar of applesauce made in Greenfield, Mass., as “local”, even though both towns are 20 miles from Brattleboro.

The legislature took the previous, simple, and rational definition and rendered it complicated, difficult to understand, and confusing to both sellers and consumers.

The previous definition of “local” was:

  • Grown or produced in Vermont; or
  • Grown or produced within 30 miles of the point of sale, if that is outside Vermont’s border.

Simple and sensible, right?

But now the definition of “local” means grown or produced exclusively in Vermont, even if the place where the product is being sold is Brattleboro and the place where the product was grown or produced is St. Albans – 180 miles away and a three-hour highway drive.

A consumer buying a bag of apples marked “local” at a grocery store in Brattleboro would reasonably believe that the apples were produced within the Brattleboro area – including Keene, New Hampshire and Greenfield, Mass.

That consumer might strongly believe in “buying local,” knowing very well that the apples she is buying could be from Keene or Greenfield, which comports with any reasonable, sensible definition of “local.”

The new definition of “local” now not only means exclusively grown or produced in Vermont, but it is further complicated because it depends on what type of product is being sold; where it was grown; where it was produced; where its ingredients come from; and where the company that produced the product is located.

This complicated and confusing re-working of the definition of “local” was unnecessary, because Vermont still has the Vermont Origin Rule, which strictly regulates the use of the term “Vermont” on a product for sale, and the Consumer Protection Act, which prohibits any false or misleading statement in advertising. Thus, if a seller was falsely selling a product in Vermont as a “Vermont” product or as “local,” that was already a violation of Vermont law and subject to enforcement by the Vermont Attorney General.

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