Sense + Nonsense of Farm Certification

Sense + Nonsense of Farm Certification

Last week at the United Fresh Produce Association GLOBAL G.A.P. Tour in Chicago we heard from leaders in Agriculture about the challenges of Food Safety and Sustainability Certification.  With representatives present across the spectrum, perspectives were varied but on point.

After the keynote addressing the role of audits in the industry, GLOBAL G.A.P. President Kristian Moeller introduced David Gombas, United Fresh Produce Association to moderate the first panel titled “Food Safety Harmonization – 6 Years Later”.

Farmer Fred Finney of Moreland Fruit Farm was on fire … “standards are important until they’re not” calling out fellow retailer panelists on market demands that trump food safety compliance on “certain holidays”. He wasn’t mincing words about auditors either “…those who can, grow; those who can’t audit.”.  Fred wasn’t just about jabs, he presented productive contributions to the panel discussion regarding Food Safety Harmonization.  I found it refreshing to see a balance of large and small farmers among the retailers represented.

Milinda Dwyer of Costco and Bill Pool of Wegmans both concurred with Kerry Bridges of Walmart that “auditor competency is huge” and that the industry must continue to take steps towards more commodity specific audits and increased training and resources for auditors. Peter Hill of Alpine Fresh who operates in nine countries across several commodities reinforced the need for “commodity specific applications” and felt that “harmonization is the right direction”.   Reggie Brown of the Florida Tomato Exchange was giving Fred’s soap box a run for its money; Brown’s passion filled the room as he concurred with a resounding message of cooperation and simplification “let’s come together” he belabored as he vibrantly shared in-the-trenches experiences of the pains and successes of the last six years of harmonization.

Overall it appears that the industry recognizes the need to continue to streamline the process for growers and auditors alike. Reducing costs, improving efficiency and market access are central topics throughout the day.  I was pleased with the overall tone of the conversation from the room–there seems to be a genuine commitment to reducing the burden and cost of certification and audits for everyone.

The panel and participants at the Global GAP 2015 USA Tour were cooperative and seemingly had the best intentions. Still, I couldn’t help but to notice that most of the room was centered on the policy, benchmarking and standards.  I began to wonder where technology can be leveraged in the normalization, streamlining and education process?  Why are audits and records still jailed on inefficient paper forms? Why is that okay?  Conversations at break and over a long lunch settled my concerns as most companies are moving toward data alignment and mobile audit tools.  Later that day during the Technical Workshop we discussed the possibility of a remote audit and how growers who use electronic recordation system can save money and time with off-site audits soon to be adopted as part of GLOBAL G.A.P. v5.0

We’ll check back with more from the other two Panels and the Technical Workshop in a later blog.  Until then; what are your thoughts? Is compliance too costly?  What’s the benefit to you?  What direction would you like to see the certification process go?