Growers marketing local food should be prepared to implement good agricultural practices if they want to assure long-term consumer and retail demand, according to researchers at Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences.
“What we found was the trend seems to be that Pennsylvania supermarkets are both interested in increasing sales of local produce but also are going to increasingly hand down more stringent expectations that will require growers to verify their compliance with on-farm food safety standards,” said Daniel Tobin, author of the study and graduate student at Penn State.
The study involved 15 Pennsylvania companies with a total of 628 supermarkets in the state.
The research asked a representative from each of the participating supermarkets to indicate their current (2009) and projected (2012) policies on GAPs. The survey found that in 2009, only four (27%) companies required either GAP training or certification. The research found that by 2012, however, 10 of the 15 (67%) supermarkets said they intend to require either GAP training or third party certification for suppliers.
The majority of supermarkets taking part in the research said they intended to increase purchases of local produce in 2012.
Seven of the companies (47%) indicated they would buy the same amount of local produce in 2012 as they had in 2009, while eight (53%) indicated that they would purchase more local produce by 2012.
None of the retailers planned to buy less local produce.
All the supermarkets that required either training or certification said they intend to purchase more local produce in 2012.
Only one of the 15 companies said it communicates to consumers that the local produce it sells has been inspected for on-farm food safety.
Tobin said there are no reliable figures on the percent of growers in Pennsylvania who have implemented GAPs or undergone third-party certification. The expectation is that GAPs will become required.
“Whether mandated by the Food Safety Modernization Act or the private sector, GAP compliance through third-party certification will likely become the norm for most growers, regardless of farm size, location, or financial status,” according to the study.
A separate study found that 87.6% of Pennsylvania consumers placed high importance on knowing whether the produce they bought had been inspected by the government for on-farm food safety. In addition, 86.6% strongly agreed they would have fewer concerns about produce contamination if they produce they bought had been inspected by the government.
In general, the authors said the research showed consumers do not currently feel assured that the produce they are purchasing is safe.