Just as the U.S. Department of Agriculture is moving to harmonize organic standards with global trading partners, some produce growers, shippers and marketers are advocating a similar approach to global food safety standards.

The Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association has been involved in harmonizing good agricultural practice standards for the past three years, said Ray Gilmer, United Fresh’s vice president of communications.

“The GAP harmonization is a big part of that, but it only goes so far,” Gilmer said.

He said there are standards that transcend grower GAP standards and complicate plans for harmonization of food safety standards worldwide.

“It does create a bit of a headache for people who are trying to minimize costs,” he said.

Richard Lee, compliance coordinator with the Leamington-based Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers Association, said the industry needs a single set of rules.

“We need a set platform, and we’re asking domestic producers (in Canada) to apply international standards,” he said.

The Food Safety Modernization Act, of which the Food and Drug Administration released some rules in early January, is another factor, said Hank Giclas, vice president for science, technology and strategic planning for Irvine, Calif.-based Western Growers.

“I think there are efforts to harmonize, and I know some of our closer trading partners in Canada and Mexico are working with FDA to stay abreast of the new rules,” he said.

Giclas said the final rules will apply to imports.

“The next rules to come from FDA will be how that gets verified. Whether it’s through a supplier verification program or third-party verification program remains to be seen,” he said.

Harmonizing global food safety standards is a worthwhile goal but not easy to reach, said Sally Blackman, manager of food safety and nutrition with the Canadian Produce Marketing Association.

“In general, it would be so much easier, but it’s a long process,” she said.

Jane Proctor, CPMA’s vice president of policy and issue management, said industry members worldwide are working on the issue.

“The International Federation for Produce Standards, which we’re a member of, PMA is a member of, New Zealand, Europeans, etc., are all members of this body of international produce organizations, and harmonization is the key focus of that group,” Proctor said.

Audit certification company SCS Global Services, Emeryville, Calif., offers GlobalGAP certification to the GlobalGAP produce Safety Standard for domestic suppliers, said Nova Sayers, business development director of the company’s food and agriculture division.

“We’ve always offered GlobalGAP IFA (Integrated Farm Assurance) certification for companies ready to meet the highest international standards and those who might be exporting to European retailers,” she said.

In some regions outside the U.S., auditing standards already are similar to those of the U.S., said Gary Wishnatzki, owner of Plant City, Fla.-based Wish Farms, which brings blueberries to the U.S. from Chile.

“In many cases, I believe some of the protocols down there may even be stricter,” Wishnatzki said.

The toughest current challenge in importing produce is the time required to move and process commodities through U.S. ports of entry, said Don Edgar, operations manager of Princeton, Fla.-based grower-shipper-packer New Limeco LLC.

“I know we’ve gotten better. We have a lot of cooperation with the ports because we’re a major player in importing,” he said.