Farmers who sell their produce wholesale have at least one thing in common with their buyers: they don’t want their customers to get sick. And not just because food poisoning is a bummer—it’s just bad for business.
Increasingly, buyers want the added assurance of Good Agricultural Practices, or GAP, certification. Certification of Good Agricultural Practices as defined by the USDA is usually done by a third party. Easy enough to do, but a lot of farmers are opting out. They believe it creates an onerous burden. Are they right? And is mandatory GAP certification on the horizon?
Lynn Byczinski, author of The Flower Farmer: An Organic Grower’s Guide to Raising and Selling Cut Flowers, digs into the issue in this article from GrowingforMarket.com:
As 2009 draws to a close, food safety is high on the national agenda. Fruit and vegetable growers are facing pressure to comply with food safety standards, known as Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs), and wholesale buyers are increasingly requiring a third-party GAPs certification. Although certification is technically still voluntary, nearly everyone in the produce industry agrees that mandatory certification is on the horizon for those who sell wholesale.
Whether growers who sell at farmers markets and CSAs will be forced to comply with food safety measures remains to be seen. In general, few farmers oppose the concept of food safety standards because they don’t want their customers to get sick from their products. But GAPs will certainly be considered an onerous burden by many small farmers who are accustomed to complete freedom in how they grow and harvest. GAPs certification requires written documentation of a food safety program, including standard operating procedures and logs of numerous farm chores such as worker training, bathroom cleaning, and container cleaning.
Growers’ organizations are working to ensure that any requirements be scale-appropriate, but those details have yet to be worked out. Growing for Market is following this issue closely, and will keep you updated, especially as small-scale growers begin to seek certification next year.
Although the prospect of more regulation, expense and paperwork is disheartening, some growers are bowing to the inevitable and getting a head start on GAPs certification.
“The GAPs certification is basically a plan of common-sense issues that growers need to have addressed about food safety and sanitation practices,” said Van Weldon of Wood Duck Farm in Texas, who plans to seek certification early next year. “While some work may be required on the part of the grower, creating and implementing a plan that custom addresses these health topics for that particular farm is in the best interest for everyone. I think everyone would like to know that the tomatoes or greens they are eating were not irrigated from a pond directly downhill from a feedlot. For better or worse, I will not be surprised in the future if GAPs certification becomes a prerequisite to purchasing liability insurance.”
Laura Kelsay Edwards, director of the Tacoma, WA, farmers market, said a GAPs training at an annual conference this year was well-attended.