Lloyd Schrock provided an update at the Western Produce Auction's Annual Meeting on November 11, 2011 (yes he was talking on the 11 hour of the 11 minute too...). Lloyd is the manager of the Lincoln County Produce Auction in Kentucky. He has been involved for 2 years with this food safety issue, serving on an 8 to 10 person committee representing produce auctions. A well-known fellow also on this committee is Raymond Yoder (Ohio).
Lloyd first reviewed why food safety seems more important than it was some years ago. He cited two main reasons, that the public gets immunized for so many common infectious diseases and are not exposed (when young) to these more environmentally originating ones. Thus the general public is more susceptible to the latter, and they aren't used to getting sick like in the past. The implications for the produce auctions are:
Accountability- growers will need to practice food safety in case an outbreak is traced back to that auction.*
Marketing- big markets are demanding food safety is practiced, or else they won't buy.*
*Both these can be addressed by growers choosing to participate in a voluntary third party certification program, called 'Good Agricultural Practices', or GAPs.
The current situation
The FDA and USDA were more lenient than expected towards produce than to meat, dairy and eggs. But now produce is being impacted by a new law, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). While the law passed, the rules to enforce it are only being written now. The origin for the needs for the FSMA can be traced back to some outbreaks that occurred with large scale leafy green production on the west coast. Producers there grouped together to adopt food safety changes under the Leafy Greens Marketing Order. The standards were very strict and not applicable to production typical with smaller farms in the Eastern US. So when standards were being considered for other produce and the rest of the US, many of the proposed rules were questioned. Both Lloyd and Raymond Yoder testified in Federal Hearings, the first in October of 2009. In the last two years the produce auction committee has been involved in many meetings. He pointed out that many of the rules were being considered for 'large growers', which are growers with more than $500,000 in annual sales. The USDA made the law and asked the FDA to write the rules. Cornell University (New York) is lead of universities assisting with the process. The final rules will undoubtedly give the FDA the authority to go to problem areas, quarantine product, and require improvements.
How will produce auctions be impacted?
Under the framework of FSMA any grower selling thru a broker would be required to become GAP certified. If strictly interpreted this would mean anyone selling at a produce auction. But Lloyd feels some exceptions will be granted to produce auctions when the final rules are written, as follows:
The enforcement of the FSMA will be phased in. The first impacted will be large growers. Smaller growers will likely not be impacted until 2014 or 2015. But Lloyd pointed out that the change is coming, and the various auction facilities and their growers should be proactive, get educated, and be willing to make necessary changes. Many of the changes are quite reasonable; while documentation will definitely be dramatically increased, production, harvesting or packaging changes may be fairly minor. The combination of increased documentation and changes in produce production/handling, this will REDUCE risk, but not ELIMINATE risk.
He also noted that some large buyers at some auctions may only be willing to purchase from GAP certified growers. If this is the case, there may be a pricing benefit for growers to become GAP certified. Lloyd Schrock does return phone calls, and can be reached at:
450 Al Wyler Road
Crab Orchard, KY 40419
REVISED: November 30, 2015