Many leaders throughout the produce industry have increasingly recognized the cost and inefficiency of multiple standards and audits now being used to measure compliance with Good Agriculture Practices (GAPs). Neither produce suppliers nor retailers and foodservice companies are well served when duplicative standards and audits raise total supply chain costs without enhancement of overall food safety.
In addition to general business leaders, the United Fresh Produce Association Food Safety Council, consisting of food safety and quality assurance experts across the supply chain, has looked at a variety of GAP standards and audits in use and under development, and has concluded that there is sound scientific potential for harmonizing basic GAP standards to meet the needs of these many stakeholders.
As a means to further explore the potential and accelerate the possibility for industry-wide commitment to harmonized standards, United Fresh hosted a Global Conference on Produce Food Safety Standards immediately following its annual convention in late April. Some 300 leaders from each stage of the produce supply chain, government, and third-party standard owners and auditors from around the world participated in the two-day conference.
During the conference, government and private-sector stakeholders involved with both on-farm produce GAP standards/audits and post-farm gate audit protocols presented overviews of their own systems, followed by group break-outs exploring questions about the potential value of harmonization and greater alignment of standards.
As suspected, a clear pattern of duplication and overlap among the many standards became apparent, leading participants toward a general consensus on the need to work together toward harmonization of standards.
Outcomes From the Conference
Conference participants reached a number of conclusions that may serve as a platform for further effort ahead:
- Produce GAP standards used in various audits seem to be at least 90% the same, providing a clear opportunity for harmonization.
- Commodity-specific food safety standards and audits (leafy greens, tomatoes) are getting done and being accepted through the supply chain. The process of bringing key stakeholders together to develop and endorse commodity-specific standards provides a good model for building consensus on general GAP standards.
- Inclusion of non-food safety standards (environmental, social issues) is a likely obstacle to harmonization, particularly in North America. These issues may need to be addressed separately.
- Harmonization of general GAP standards/audits must be transparent with open communication of intent, progress, and conclusions.
- Retailers, foodservice companies, fresh-cut processors, grower-shippers, and government must all be at the table working together.
- Auditors and standard owners need to be at the table as well, but not at the expense of the harmonization goal.