New Survey to Shed Light on How Farmers are Faring Under Produce Safety Rule

The FDA’s Produce Safety Rule, mandated by the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), is now taking effect for California farmers. A new survey, funded by the USDA, promises to give a clearer picture of what this means for the industry.
 
Farmers have voiced concerns over the costs and challenges of complying with the Rule since it was first announced. However, there is still too little hard evidence on the true distribution and severity of these challenges. Both farmers and government agencies need concrete statistics on where California farmers stand with respect to the Rule and how much they’re paying to comply.
 
To meet this need, a new research project out of the UC Berkeley Center for Diversified Farming Systems is reaching out to farmers in Ventura, Fresno, Monterey, and Imperial Counties to fill out a survey on food safety. The survey asks for information on how much time and money it takes to comply with specific requirements of the Rule, and provides an opportunity for participating farmers to report any obstacles or difficulties they have encountered. Filling out the survey should take about 30 minutes, and all responses are confidential. 
 
Most fruit and vegetable farms in California already have food safety measures in place, but for many farmers, complying with the Produce Rule has still meant big changes—and possibly big costs. But these costs are not the same for all farms.
 
Two reports from the USDA Economic Research Service released earlier this fall have shown that smaller farms still pay proportionally more to comply with the Produce Rule than do their larger counterparts. Not all costs are paid for in dollars, though. Abiding by the new safety measures takes time and labor, too, and this new survey asks farmers to share their thoughts on these costs as well. 
 
The project will identify the most significant difficulties faced by farmers for each area of the Rule: water, soil amendments, worker health and hygiene, tools and equipment, and environmental monitoring. It will also clarify how the cost to comply varies among farms of different size, cropping system, location, and organic certification status. The research will also shed light on how voluntary third-party audits and certifications affect farmers. These voluntary measures are not required by the Rule, but may be requested by buyers.
 
The results of this survey should point to opportunities for improving food safety while reducing costs and administrative burden for farmers.
 
If you grow vegetables, fruits, or nuts in California, have annual sales over $25,000, and would like to participate in this effort, please visit the following website: https://tinyurl.com/California-Food-Safety-Survey
 
The person most directly in charge of managing food safety should take the survey. All responses are confidential and reported results will be fully anonymized.
 
The first 300 people to complete the survey will be eligible for a $20 e-gift card, and all respondents who complete the survey may choose to enter a drawing for one of ten $100 e-gift cards. The survey will be open through March 31, 2019.
 
For further information, please contact the project director, Dr. Patrick Baur (pbaur@berkeley.edu).
 
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Dr. Patrick Baur is a USDA-NIFA postdoctoral fellow with the Center for Diversified Farming Systems at the University of California, Berkeley. His current study is titled, “How do California produce farmers interpret and implement food safety pressures in their on-farm management practices, and at what cost to themselves and the environment?”

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