Initiative overload and more audit fatigue

06/28/2013 11:07:00 AM
Barry Bedwell

This is particularly true in a state like California where no reasonable person would argue that growers and shippers lack regulatory oversight.

There are multiple state agencies created specifically to ensure farmworkers are protected when it comes to wages and working conditions.

California even has its own law specially designed for farmworkers, the Agricultural Labor Relations Act, that was created in 1975 to protect individuals rights to any concerted activity, including wanting to be represented by a collective bargaining agreement.

When it comes to the regulation of plant health materials, we not only have the federal Environmental Protection Agency actively monitoring and protecting workers, in California we have the California EPA, an Office of Environmental Health Hazards Assessment and the Department of Pesticide Regulation.

In fact, before a worker applies pesticides, there are more than 70 laws and regulations that a grower has to follow, many of which are specifically concerned with worker safety.

In regard to food safety, the work that has been done internally by the produce industry as well as the proposals now contained in the Food Safety Modernization Act confirm that this area has been taken very seriously and has been properly addressed.

It is difficult to see how worker involvement in this area would lead to productive improvements.

In summary, whether you are in a state like California that has such extensive regulations or not, the fact is that being in compliance with the multitude of federal and state agencies that provide oversight is the best certification to assure consumers that growers are following socially responsible and environmentally friendly practices.

I would hope that our demand-side partners will become more knowledgeable of protections currently in place for workers and thoughtfully evaluate proposals such as EFI before signing on to such initiatives.

I feel confident that if retailers express their concerns first to their supply side partners in regard to questions their consumers are asking, we can respond in a positive manner that provides real answers as well as avoids duplicative and unproductive costs.

In the long run, this is the true pathway to sustainability.

Barry Bedwell is president of the Fresno-based California Grape & Tree Fruit League.

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