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Published June 25, 2009, 12:00 AM

Expert urges food safety certification

U.S. farmers will benefit if they voluntarily agree to food safety certification, the chairman of a global food safety organization said Wednesday in Moorhead.

By: Jon Knutson, INFORUM

U.S. farmers will benefit if they voluntarily agree to food safety certification, the chairman of a global food safety organization said Wednesday in Moorhead.

“It will give them a competitive advantage, and they will do better by being proactive rather than having more regulations imposed on them,” said Nigel Garbutt, who leads the Cologne, Germany-based Global Partnership for Good Agricultural Practice, or GLOBALG.A.P.

Garbutt spoke at a conference organized by Fargo-based Northern Great Plains Inc., a nonprofit organization that focuses on creating economic opportunity and supporting a healthy environment and vital rural communities.

U.S. agriculture once needed to emphasize productivity and marketing, said Jerry Nagel, president of Northern Great Plains.

Now the emphasis is switching to “culture of quality/management of risk,” he said.

U.S. farmers “need to get out in front on this,” and voluntary food safety certification will help, he said.

GLOBALG.A.P., a private-sector organization governed by farmers and retailers, is working with roughly 100,000 ag producers worldwide to certify that they meet food safety practices that retailers and consumers want.

European food scares in the 1990s made it vital for retailers and producers there to reassure consumers about food safety, and voluntary standards certification has helped, Garbutt said.

What began in Europe is spreading worldwide, he said.

The standards include proper handling of produce and making sure that pesticide is washed off fruits and vegetables.

Most farmers already are close to meeting the standards, although documentation and record-keeping “can be a pain in the backside,” Garbutt said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Department of Agriculture set food standards in America.

But recent food scares in the United States have some consumers thinking, “Can we rely completely on regulators?” Garbutt said.

Voluntary certification “is not a substitute for regulation. It’s a complement to regulation,” he said.

As more farmers worldwide turn to voluntary certification, U.S. producers face competitive pressure to do the same, he said.

“We’re pretty confident it’s going to happen in the States. We just don’t know when,” Garbutt said.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Jonathan Knutson at (701) 241-5530

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