Tenets for a Produce Safety Policy Platform in North Carolina
Scale appropriate. Regulations or laws adapted for produce safety must be scale appropriate. North Carolina’s fruit and vegetable production community encompasses a wide range of types of farms and an equally wide range of items produced. North Carolina is best served by facilitating co-existence of all producer sizes to serve multiple markets: Local farm direct sales/farmers markets/roadside stands, in-state and out-of-state institutional and food service, produce brokers/distributors and grocery retailers.
Risk based. Measures to mitigate produce safety risk or to implement solutions, must be based on the assessment of the risk. Focus should be placed on those measures and solutions that will make a difference based on risk assessment and not superficial changes simply to “look good,” but that do not result in real risk reduction.
Science based. Specific measures to mitigate produce safety risk or specific metrics included in produce safety solutions must be based on sound science. Funding research to develop a science-based approach to on-farm produce safety should be a priority as there are many areas of on-farm produce production for which unbiased, quantifiable risk is difficult to ascertain. For instance, in the state of North Carolina there are two areas where significant additional scientifically sound information is needed: Water for irrigation and proximity to livestock production. Currently there are a number of irrigation water metrics specified from buyers–some use metrics for potable water, for example. No one can speak with certainty if the metric specified will actually make a difference in safety of the crop grown. Additionally, in the state of North Carolina, livestock production is a large segment of agricultural production. Science-based recommendations for proximity of fruit/vegetable production and pastured or concentrated animal production do not exist.
Tiered compliance. Compliance with produce safety measures should be tiered to reflect farm size, market served and risk. For instance, a 2-acre fruit and vegetable producer selling exclusively through farmers markets or CSAs within 50 miles of the farm vs. a several hundred acre producer shipping produce to multiple outlets in multiple states. A tiered compliance program would include training on on-farm produce safety for all producers, however the larger producer would choose to comply with more rigorous certifications to meet buyer specifications, for example compliance with various GAP modules and/or Global GAPs.
Proactive.The North Carolina Fresh Produce Safety Task Force believes that all producers of fruit/vegetables should take a proactive stance on the issue of on-farm produce safety and actively seek information to understand environmental and cultural risks that may be present in their region and/or for the specific crops they grow. The consumer should be assured that all produce they purchase has been grown by a conscientious producer that has taken the time and gone to the effort to implement an on-farm produce safety process.
Focus on education/incentive not regulation/punitive. The North Carolina Fresh Produce Safety Task Force believes that on-farm food safety should center around education and incentives rather than mandated regulations with punitive measures for non-compliance.