Licenses & Regulations
Whether you are starting a new farm business or already have an existing business, there are several regulations you'll need to be aware of if you intend to produce, market, and sell your product to the public. Some licenses, permits, and regulations apply to producers on a national-scale, while others may be state- or even county-specific. Also, pay close attention to renewal date deadlines for any licenses or certificates you hold, as those dates can be easily overlooked and become expired, which could lead to legal issues for your business. Stay up-to-date on the latest Farm Bill requirements, which are passed every five years.
Both the Georgia Department of Agriculture and the Georgia Department of Public Health have substantial resources and information available to anyone who grows, processes, or handles food with the intention of selling or distributing to the public for consumption. In an effort to be more user-friendly and accessible to agriculture producers in Georgia, the Georgia Department of Agriculture's Licensing Division handles all licensing and renewals for all of the Department's Operation Divisions (Animal Industry, Food Safety, Marketing, Plant Industry and Fuel & Measures).
Below, we will cover some of the most common licenses and regulations for farm and food sales businesses in the following three categories: Farm Business and Food Sales, Food Safety, and Livestock Products.
Farm Business and Food Sales
Whether you are a farm business, food processor, or distributor in the state of Georgia, you will need a current Georgia Business License, which are issued by city and county governments. The regulations for processing and selling goods intended for consumption in the state of Georgia can differ from regulations in other states, so be sure to fully understand which licenses and regulations you’ll need to comply with in Georgia by visiting the Georgia Department of Agriculture Food Safety Division webpage. Below are several licenses and certifications that may apply to your individual farm business or food sales operation.
Georgia Business License
No matter what your business plan is, you’ll need to first apply for a business license with your city or county. The process for acquiring your business license may differ depending on your city or county requirements, so it’s important that you contact your local Chamber of Commerce or development authority to understand the requirements they have for businesses operating within their jurisdiction. You may also want to consult with an attorney or accountant as you establish your business plan. Licenses will need to be renewed annually.
Georgia Agricultural Tax Exemption Program (GATE)
"The Georgia Agriculture Tax Exemption program (GATE) is an agricultural sales and use tax exemption certificate issued by the Department of Agriculture that identifies its user as a qualified farmer or agricultural producer." The GATE Rules is a great resource to find out if you qualify for tax exemptions for agricultural equipment and production inputs that are intended specifically for agricultural purposes for the person or entity that holds the certificate. You can submit your application online or in writing to the Georgia Department of Agriculture for a small fee, and all GATE certificates are valid until December 31st of each year. Certificates need to be renewed annually.
Food Sales Establishment License
"Food sales establishments are regulated by the Georgia Department of Agriculture. The Georgia food Act requires anyone who intends to operate a food sales establishment in the state of Georgia to obtain a Food Sales Establishment License from the Georgia Department of Agriculture." The Georgia Department of Agriculture defines a Food Sales Establishment as "retail and wholesale grocery stores; retail seafood stores and places of business; food processing plants, except those food processing plants which are currently required to obtain a license from the Commissioner under any other provision of law; bakeries; confectioneries; fruit, nut, and vegetable stores or roadside stands; wholesale sandwich and salad manufacturers, including vending machines and operations connected therewith; and places of business and similar establishments, mobile or permanent, engaged in the sale of food primarily for consumption off the premises." These licenses will need to be renewed annually. You may want to contact your District Office to find out if there are any specific requirements for your county or municipality of which you should be aware.
Georgia Cottage Food License
The Cottage Food Program is regulated by the Georgia Department of Agriculture and licenses people who operate from a home kitchen with direct sale to the consumer. You'll need to touch base with your local planning and zoning authority to make sure you are allowed to operate a food business from your home. Cottage food operators can sell their products within the state of Georgia and through internet sales; however, licensed cottage food operators are not allowed to distribute or wholesale their product, nor can they ship their product across state lines. In Georgia, you can sell non-potentially hazardous food products such as breads, cakes, jams/jellies, dried herbs and fruits, nuts, and vinegars, among other items. A full list of food items that are permissible under this license can be found at the Georgia Department of Agriculture Cottage Food Program webpage. A helpful resource is the Starting a Cottage Food Business in Georgia pamphlet. For more detailed and current Cottage Food Law requirements, make sure to visit the Georgia Department of Agriculture's Cottage Food website.
Food safety refers to the conditions and practices that preserve the quality of food to prevent contamination and food-borne illnesses. Safe steps in food handling, cooking, and storage can prevent foodborne illnesses. Each year, foodborne illnesses sicken millions of Americans and lead to thousands of hospitalizations and deaths. These illnesses are a preventable and underreported public health problem. Make sure you know what types of certifications you need for your farm or food business in order to comply with current food safety regulations and help prevent foodborne illnesses.
Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)
The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), was a major overhaul of food safety regulations that were signed into law on Jan 4, 2011 and gave the Food and Drug Administration expanded authority for regulation and enforcement of food safety. The focus of FSMA is to prevent food safety problems rather than reacting to food safety problems once they occur. Its requirements and rules are still being developed and interpreted. All farmers and food business operators should be aware of FSMA and its requirements. Some exemptions exist for smaller farmers or food businesses and for direct to consumer sales, but as those businesses grow they may no longer qualify for exemptions. FSMA has two major food safety rules that apply to farmers and food businesses: the Produce Safety Rule; and the Preventive Controls for Human Foods Rule. Use the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition's FSMA Final Rule Flowchart to figure out whether or not your farm or food business is required to comply with either or both of the rules.
Produce Safety Rule
This rule establishes nationwide minimum produce safety standards for the safe growing, harvesting, packing, and storing of fresh fruits and vegetables. To learn more about commodities that are covered under the rule and requirements of the rule, visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration FSMA Final Rule on Produce Safety. Growers who must comply with the Produce Safety Rule can find additional information on approved training at the Georgia Department of Agriculture’s Farm Safety Program website, the Produce Safety Alliance website, and the University of Georgia Food Science Extension website.
Preventive Controls for Human Food Rule
This rule requires food facilities to have a food safety plan in place that identifies potential hazards and outlines preventive measures that minimize these food safety risks and to have a Preventive Controls Qualified Individual capable of developing and overseeing this plan. To learn more about requirements, visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Final Rule for Preventive Controls for Human Food. For information on available trainings, visit the University of Georgia Food Science Extension website.
Good Agricultural Practices and Good Handling Practices (GAP & GHP)
The USDA "Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and Good Handling Practices (GHP) are voluntary audits that verify that fruits and vegetables are produced, packed, handled, and stored as safely as possible to minimize risks of microbial food safety hazards.” A GAP audit will cover a farm review, field harvesting and field packing activities, while a GHP audit covers house packing facilities, storage and transportation. Both GAP and GHP audits will include general food safety questions that verify your operation is meeting food safety standards. Currently, these certifications are voluntary; however some schools, retail stores and wholesale businesses require a producer/distributor to hold a GAP/GHP certification in an effort to ensure food safety standards are being met. The GroupGAP program allows growers, packers, and supply chain partners to pool resources in an effort to obtain GAP certification as a group. For more information visit the USDA GroupGAP Food Safety Program webpage.
Food Safety Training Resources
- Check our Sustainable Agriculture Programs and Events page to find dates and locations for upcoming Produce Safety Alliance Grower Trainings, which are designed for farmers and producers in order to satisfy the requirements for compliance with the Produce Safety Rule. Attendees who complete the entire training earn a certificate from the Association of Food and Drug Officials.
- UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences Food Safety for Foodservice website is a great place to find helpful resources and training information for those who work in the food industry in Georgia. UGA Extension offers quality food safety education for organizations such as school nutrition, child care facilities, personal care homes, and churches by hosting ServSafe® classes. Contact your local county Extension office to find out if they offer these classes. You can also visit the National Restaurant Association's website to find training events and materials for obtaining a ServSafe® certification.
- Enhancing the Safety of Locally Grown Produce - At the Market is an online course through eXtension "for farmer's market managers who are involved with organizing and selling produce to consumers. Course participants will learn the causes of foodborne illness and ways market managers can help enhance the safety of products being sold, identify practices of a food safety plan, and examine best practices that enhance the safety of products sold at the market, including vendor and worker health and hygiene, proper display of foods, safe sampling of food and cleaning the market." For more information, contact Judy Harrison, Ph.D., Professor and Extension Foods Specialist with the University of Georgia, at email@example.com
Livestock & Livestock Products
The selling of livestock and livestock products in Georgia is governed by rules and regulations from both the USDA and the Georgia Department of Agriculture (GDA). The following information is just an overview of selling live or slaughtered animals and animal products in Georgia, so be sure to check in with the Livestock and Poultry Division as well as the Meat Inspection Division of GDA to make sure you are following all the proper regulations and have obtained all the required licenses before you sell live or slaughtered animals or animal products.
Farmers are able to sell live animals to consumers directly on the farm. Unless you are a licensed meat processor, the farmer nor the buyer are allowed to slaughter or process animals on site. To have an animal slaughtered and processed, you will have to contact a licensed facility to handle the slaughter and processing of that animal. There must be separate transactions for the sale of the animal and the slaughtering and processing of the animal. If you are selling live animals, check with the GDA and USDA to learn about the requirements for selling and slaughtering/processing live animals. It may also be helpful to read the FSIS Guideline for Determining Whether a Livestock Slaughter or Processing Firm is Exempt from the Inspection Requirements of the Federal Meat Inspection Act.
If you intend to sell meat products, you need to check with the Georgia Department of Agriculture to determine which licenses you’ll need to obtain depending on your intended means of meat sales. For example, if you want to sell meat products at a Farmer’s Market, you will need a mobile license (40-7-5). If you are selling from your own facility that meets the necessary meat inspection regulations, you will need a fixed location license (40-7-1-19). In general, if you are doing any cooking/curing you will need to have your facility inspected.
If you intend on selling meat across state lines, your facility must be federally inspected. If you are only selling within Georgia, your facility can be either federal or state inspected. You can find an updated list of federally inspected facilities from the USDA Meat, Poultry, and Egg Product Inspection Directory online. To find a list of state inspected facilities, contact the Meat Inspection Section of the Georgia Department of Agriculture. Also, make sure to review the Meat Inspection Rule 40-10-1.
Georgia is one of the nation’s top poultry producing states, and is a major supplier of chicken meat for the U.S. and other world markets. Chickens raised and sold for meat are called broilers. Broiler production is a complex, changing, and highly technical industry and therefore has different requirements from state to state. Broiler production requirements are also different depending on the scale of the operation. Make sure you know all the requirements for your specific operation by contacting the Georgia Department of Agriculture and make sure to review the Poultry Inspection Rule 40-10-2.
Farmers who process less than 1,000 birds per year can process their birds on-site if they meet the Small Poultry/Pasture Poultry Guidelines set forth by the Georgia Department of Agriculture's Livestock and Poultry Division. Farmers who process less than 1,000 birds are able to sell to farmer’s markets with a mobile meat license.
Georgia laws require those who want to process between 1,000-20,000 birds take their birds to federally inspected poultry facilities. Unfortunately, there currently aren’t any processing facilities in Georgia that meet these requirements, so farmers are permitted to transport their birds across state lines in order to have them processed at a federally inspected facility in another state.
For those who need to process more than 20,000 birds per year are required to work with a large-scale broiler company, often referred to as an "integrator". "Integrators usually own the breeder flocks, hatcheries, feed mills and processing plants and contract out the growing and egg production flocks to farmers. The integrator provides a contract producer with the chicks, feed, medication and technical advisors to supervise farm production. Under this system, the company retains ownership of the birds and expects producers to grow their flocks under very specific management programs." To learn more about the broiler industry and integrator business contract agreements, take a look at the UGA Extension publication Guide for Prospective Contract Broiler Producers.
There has been increased interest in backyard chickens. In order to raise backyard chickens, you should check with your city or county government for local regulations. A great resource for learning more about backyard chickens is the UGA Extension publication Management Guide for the Backyard Flock.
In Georgia, everyone who wants to sell eggs has to comply with the Georgia Egg Law and must have an egg candling certificate. The exception is for farmers selling eggs directly on their farm. The egg candling certificate is free but the farmer must successfully complete and Egg Candling Class. This class is taught by Georgia Department of Agriculture (GDA) representatives and includes a written examination and a hands-on candling examination. You can find out when classes are offered through the Agriculture Calendar on the GDA website. You should review the Georgia Egg Law and the USDA Federal Egg-Grading Manual before you attend the class. You can also review some basic regulatory requirements for small egg producers that must be met before obtaining a license.
The dairy industry is regulated by both the federal and state government. In Georgia, the Georgia Department of Agriculture (DGA) licenses and regulates the dairy industry through the Grade A Pasteurized Milk Ordinance (PMO) and the Georgia Dairy Act. The types of facilities regulated include "Grade A dairy farms, Grade A dairy plants, Grade A single service plants, cheese plants, ice cream plants, frozen dessert plants, tanker wash facilities, and dairy warehouses in the State of Georgia. Inspectors within the Dairy Section collect samples of raw and finished dairy products for analyses and they conduct functionality tests on pasteurization equipment to verify proper pasteurization is occurring." You can refer to the Food and Drug Administration's Milk Safety Program to find additional resources, such as a list of Interstate Milk Shippers and a milk personnel list for Milk Specialists, FDA CFSAN Personnel, State Grade A Milk Sanitation Personnel, Third Party Certifiers, and Single Service Consultants.
If you are looking for additional information on licenses and regulations, please see our Resources page to find other publications and useful tools.