New Food Safety Report: On Thursday, September 10, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and Food and Water Watch released an excellent new food safety report <http://salsa.wiredforchange.com/dia/track.jsp?v=2&c=d2vVIeX1we12Vam0MkEFkk25nwNFYA7l>, "Bridging the GAPS: Strategies to Improve Produce Safety, Preserve Farm Diversity and Strengthen Local Food Systems." Written by Elanor Starmer and Marie Kulick, the report is a welcomed addition to the public discourse as Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), incoming Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and other committee members consider food safety legislation (S. 510), and the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) of USDA holds hearings on a proposed national Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement.
Although the vast majority of produce-related food-borne illnesses in the United States are traced back to food processors and not to farms, several recent outbreaks associated with fresh or fresh-cut produce have brought the farm squarely into the food safety picture. A 2006 outbreak of E. coli 0157:H7 in bagged, ready-to-eat spinach and iceberg lettuce sent consumers running from leafy greens; a 2008 Salmonella outbreak, linked first to tomatoes and then to chili peppers, had a similar chilling effect. As a result, both government and industry have developed guidelines or strict protocols intended to improve produce safety on the farm.
Driven by a desire to prevent liability and to reassure consumers, many wholesale produce buyers and handlers — from regional distributors serving schools, to multinational supermarket chains — require farmers to comply with one or more of these on-farm food safety protocols. The protocols typically govern water and land use, worker hygiene, wildlife management and other activities. Often, the farmer must pay for an audit to demonstrate compliance before the buyer will purchase his or her product. Farmers selling to multiple buyers find themselves entwined in an increasingly complex and costly web of food safety programs, audits and certifications.
This report begins with an overview of existing on-farm food safety policies and programs. It then analyzes the ramifications of existing and proposed protocols, and offers recommendations for improving produce safety while preserving the diversity of farm sizes and production methods present in the U.S. food system.