The Competitive Edge of Farm Certification

Recently, I participated in the Operations Committee meeting for the Harmonized GAPs standard.  As part of the Harmonized G.A.Ps Initiative, the produce industry is identifying the best audit process to efficiently implement and deliver a ready-to-use harmonized checklist.  During the meeting, there was discussion of food safety as being non-competitive.  Does this also mean that the food safety certification process is non-competitive?  Put another way: does non-competitive food safety just preclude using food safety claims as part of marketing, or does it also preclude competition in the audit process used to assess on-farm practices for food safety?

RTEmagicC_Global_GAP_01.jpgEveryone seems to agree that “my food is safer than yours” is not a sustainable strategy for individual producers who may be able to back up their competitive food safety claims with scientific data, as it implies that the other food is not safe which damages the industry as a whole.  Everyone also seems to agree that there is a need to measure and validate food safety practices throughout industry to create effective incentives for low performers to catch up and not threaten the rest of industry with risky methods.

Now, the discussion isn’t about food safety claims, but rather how best to measure food safety performance and ensure the integrity of the audit process for food safety.  Over the last decade, ISO-accredited certification has been proven around the world as capable of delivering a rigorous independent assessment rigorousness of food safety management systems.  (Food safety can’t be “tested” into a system, it is inherent in the management system itself; Food safety certification assesses this management system.)  The competition of service providers for an audit process with a high-level of integrity can improve the audit process, stimulate innovation, and reduce cost.  This effectively creates a competitive market for delivery systems for audit processes at an acceptable level.  How this market is to be defined – who should play in the market; who should offer the services; who should supervise the market; what the levels of transparency, liability, and accountability are; and how this ultimately builds consumer and public sector trust – is the complex task of the Operations Committee.

This task will be completed successfully when the competitive edge of certification is leveraged for increased efficiency in the market for delivery systems and NOT attributed to claims like “my certification integrity is higher than yours”; Claims like this will ultimately damage the reputation of third party certification as a whole. Source: http://nablog.globalgap.org

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