The U.S. Department of Agriculture has issued a “before” shot of food safety practices on the farm, perhaps followed ten years from now with a more flattering “after” shot. 

The 84-page USDA Economic Research Service report is called, “Before Implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act’s Produce Rule: A Survey of U.S. Produce Growers."

From the report summary, here are some conclusions from the USDA study:

  • Growers’ rates of adopting food safety practices vary by PR coverage and size category. At the time of the survey, many growers who would be covered by the PR already had some food safety practices in place. Of these, larger growers had adopted food safety practices at higher rates than smaller growers. Because growers with higher sales generally operated more produce acres, the share of acres on which food safety practices were in place far exceeded the share of growers who implemented food safety practices.
  • Small farms required more change to meet the PR standards than large farms. At the time of the survey, many farms that would be covered by the PR needed to make some changes to meet the standards. On average, smaller farms needed to make more changes than larger farms. Even growers who engaged in a particular food safety practice may not have performed it to the specifications of the PR. For example, some growers who tested water did not test as often as required by the PR or did not use a test standard that met PR requirements.
  • Both growers who would not be covered and who would have a qualified exemption used some food safety practices. Some growers who would not be covered by the PR and would not be required to adopt new food safety practices had done so anyway. However, as a whole, this group was the least likely to have food safety practices in place. It was not uncommon for growers with a qualified exemption to the PR to have more food safety practices in place than growers of the same size who would be covered.
  • Larger growers spent more than smaller growers on the food safety practices measured in this report. Survey results provide a general idea of how much growers spent on some food safety practices already in place—which should not be interpreted as the cost to meet the standards of the PR or a complete measure of costs for food safety practices. Very large growers (taking in $5 million or more in annual sales) covered by the PR spent about 16 times the amount on food safety practices as growers not covered by the PR.
  • Audited growers spent more than growers without audits on the food safety costs measured in this report. The costs for audited growers served as an imprecise proxy for expenses for growers who may already have had sufficient, or nearly sufficient, food safety practices to meet the standards of the PR. Audited growers spent on average about 2 to 10 times more on measured costs than growers without audits, depending on their PR and size coverage category. The lower costs for those without audits indicated a probable need to implement additional food safety practices to meet the PR’s standards.

From the conclusion:

The summary statistics presented in this report raise many questions for future research and analysis. For example, what drives the adoption of food safety practices? How do retailer, foodservice, and processor/buyer demands for food safety audits influence the adoption of practices and their related costs? How do practices vary by crop or geography? This survey provides a rich database—a foundation that can be used to further analyze the diversity of food safety practices within U.S. agriculture.



TK: In addition to those questions, one question that could be asked now, and perhaps answered in twenty years, is how the new produce safety rule has improved food safety results. Another: how much more consolidation at the farm level will occur because of the added cost of the regulations on small growers?