BURLINGTON, VT--The Centers for Disease Control has estimated that foodborne infections cause 48 million illnesses each year in the United States, affecting about one in six Americans. Recent events, including recalls of cantaloupe in Colorado and strawberries in Oregon, keep food safety issues front and center in the news. This increased focus on food safety demands tighter standards for producers and distributors of fresh produce, noted Florence Becot, lead author of a new study.
Good agricultural practices, or "GAPs", are standards introduced by the USDA in 1998 to provide guidance on agricultural, handling, and processing steps that can reduce the microbial food safety risks associated with fresh produce. Becot and colleagues looked at the costs of implementing agricultural standards in small and medium-size farms in Vermont. "GAPs recommend that proper protocols related to water use, manure management, farmer/worker hygiene, and transportation be based on scientific data regarding risks associated with specific fruit and vegetables," Becot explained. Adherence to GAPs is currently verified through a voluntary audit administered by individual states in partnership with the Agricultural Marketing Service or by private third-party agencies.
Although GAPs were developed more than 10 years ago, little information exists about the cost of implementing these practices. University of Vermont researchers used surveys and interviews of Vermont farmers to look into the economics of participating in a GAPs audit. The report, which appeared in HortTechnology, also predicts the cost to certify all produce farms in Vermont.
The team's in-depth interviews and surveys of produce farmers revealed that the cost of GAPs certification ranges between $37 and $54 per acre in Vermont. GAPs certified farms reported that they needed two people for weekly record keeping, representing about 7 hours of labor each week during the growing season. "The results of our research can be informative for smaller scale, diversified farms that wish to scale up and sell to buyers requiring GAPs certification to meet the growing demand for locally grown fresh produce," the authors said.
The study measured the costs of GAPs compliance on a diverse sample of farms. "We found that GAPs certified farms tend to be bigger than non-certified farms and they tend to sell a higher proportion of their production to supermarkets, while non-GAPs certified farms sell a high proportion of their production directly to consumers," the researchers said. "Indeed, 88% of the GAPs certified farmers reported seeking certification because of a buyer requirement, mostly supermarkets."
The research team explored all the criteria of GAPs certification and measured the costs of GAPs from planning stages to daily record keeping more than 1 year after the certification was achieved. The study projected that certifying all the produce farms in Vermont would cost between $228,216 and $3,019,114.
The complete study and abstract are available on the ASHS HortTechnology electronic journal web site: http://horttech.ashspublications.org/content/22/5/705.abstract
Founded in 1903, the American Society for Horticultural Science (ASHS) is the largest organization dedicated to advancing all facets of horticultural research, education, and application. More information at ashs.org
Costs of Food Safety Certification on Fresh Produce Farms in Vermont
Florence A. Becot, Virginia Nickerson, David S. Conner, and Jane M. Kolodinsky
HortTechnology 22:705–714. [Abstract][Full Text][PDF]