Property damage to fruit and vegetable production

Neighbors to orchards, vineyards and produce fields may want to think about their role in ensuring the safety of their neighbor’s produce by keeping domesticated and pleasure animals out of produce fields.

With the advent of food safety laws that regulate fresh produce, neighbors to orchards, vineyards and produce fields may wish to think about their role in ensuring the safety of their neighbor’s fruits and vegetables. Activities that were once harmless may not be so harmless any more. Michigan State University Extension outlines one such activity.

Property damage would seem like a fairly clear cut concept. We all know it when we see it. Maliciously scratch a neighbor’s car, that’s property damage. Purposefully break a window, that’s property damage too. These days in farm country, property damage isn’t quite so clear cut.

New federal guidelines outlining the safe production of fruits and vegetables have very strict rules governing access of domesticated animals in produce fields. In fact, unless domesticated animals perform an essential function to the farm, like pulling a plow, they are not allowed in the field. If a farmer brings a pleasure dog into a produce field then attempts to sell that produce, they are in violation of the law. New court rulings in the trial of farmers and processors of tainted peanut butter and cantaloupes have shown that a farmer can face criminal prosecution if they knowingly sell a product that has been contaminated.

In light of these rules and court precedent, a whole host of activities that used to be commonplace and harmless can now be considered property damage. Horse owners who may have wandered off a horse trail near or into a produce field are now committing property damage. The farmer faces the risk of prosecution if the produce in that area of the field is harvested and sold.

Many homeowners that live near vegetable fields, orchards and vineyards enjoy walking their dog through the farmland. Even if the neighbor secures the permission of the farm owner, this is now considered property damage. If the farmer harvests and sells the produce, it is a violation of federal law.

If you live in a community with orchards, vineyards or produce, please keep your family pets and pleasure horses away from the crops. At best you’ll be committing property damage. At worst, your farmer neighbor may end up in jail. 

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