WASHINGTON, Sept. 15, 2015 -- At today’s meeting of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Fruit and Vegetable Industry Advisory Committee (FVIAC), Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Administrator Anne Alonzo previewed the planned expansion of a pilot program that helps small and mid-sized growers and cooperatives meet retailers’ on-farm food safety requirements.
The Administrator emphasized that transitioning the GroupGAP pilot to a full program will increase the ability of small and mid-sized growers to obtain food safety certification, thereby improving market access opportunities throughout the produce industry.
“The GroupGAP program is a great example of AMS working with stakeholders to address market challenges,” said Alonzo. “The Wallace Center at Winrock International and 12 grower groups provided feedback and insight that allowed AMS to develop a robust certification process. This collaboration allowed AMS to address the unique challenges that smaller producers and food hubs face in complying with food safety audits, while also meeting the demands of the retail, food service, and institutional buying community.”
AMS will share details about the GroupGAP program at the Oct. 23-25 Produce Marketing Association (PMA) Fresh Summit meeting in Atlanta, Ga.
The AMS Specialty Crops Inspection Division (SCI) performs Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) audits, which are voluntary audits to verify that farms are following industry-recognized food safety practices and recommendations from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Produce buyers, large and small, are increasingly requiring suppliers to be GAP certified.
The pilot program was created because many small and mid-sized growers had trouble paying for traditional GAP audits. Under the pilot, growers, food hubs, and cooperatives were able to work together to obtain group certification, helping them save money and leverage economies of scale in the marketplace. This also benefited retailers and large buyers, who were better able to meet the increasing demand for local foods and broaden their base of suppliers to be more resilient in the face of supply challenges or disruptions.