The topic of third-party audits was getting plenty of talk at the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association’s board of directors meeting in January. A prominent strawberry producer asked what many probably were wondering, too: Why must we have all these separate, buyer-mandated standards and audits for food safety?
The issue was brought to mind by an update on the new Socially Accountable Farm Employers program to certify growers on labor standards. The program might catch on as a system to ensure Florida producers are meeting the workplace standards that major buyers expect. The SAFE program, launched in 2005 and still in the formative stages, is designed to provide credible certification for farm employers who are following fair, lawful labor practices. If large buyers, such as restaurant and retail chains, accept SAFE, it could provide a relatively simple solution to the emerging challenge of labor standards for Florida farming.
The alternative might be that growers won’t meet the standards increasingly required by large buyers — companies that take reputation management very seriously — unless growers agree to a separate, third-party audit for each buyer. That obviously adds up to big bucks.
So, if food safety and labor standards share many of the same requirements for employee training, record-keeping and facilities management, why can’t those standards be woven into one mega-audit system? In theory, it would save the grower money and hassle — but only if many stars align in the meantime.
The first challenge is getting an already-diverse standards environment
to congeal into one comprehensive system that universally would be accept-
ed as the benchmark for growers of many different crops. Right now, it’s ambitious
to think you could get retailers and foodservice buyers to agree to a single food safety audit system because so many companies have their own priorities.
But it’s worth thinking about. If it will help producers remain profitable, we must give it serious thought.
Partners in production
DuPont Co.’s Partners in Production program is in full force, and it’s already helping to support production research for Florida crops. Every dollar growers spend on a DuPont crop protection product triggers a donation to the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Research & Education Foundation. Each year, the foundation helps support industry research priorities, such as food safety, new varieties and pest and disease pressures.