HACCP on the farm still a ways away
Principles already exist on many fronts.
November 12, 2007 By Top Crop Manager
Growers today are facing an increasing call for farm-based protocols aimed
at providing greater transparency in their operations. Traceability programs,
food safety initiatives and even nutrient management plans are being promoted
as methods that provide information and detail on a farm's operation, all in
the name of creating safer food along the entire value chain.
But whether growers and producers are facing the onset and implementation of
HACCP, or Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point guidelines, is yet to be determined.
According to one source involved in the program, there is little to indicate
that the industry is pushing HACCP on the farm for the average corn, wheat or
soybean grower. At least for the time being.
Frank Schreurs, director of food safety and quality service with the Guelph
Food Technology Centre, says there are all kinds of HACCP-based or HACCP-compliance
programs in place in different parts of the agri-food industry. But at present,
the implementation of on-farm HACCP protocols on a sector-wide basis is a few
years away. Schreurs acknowledges that some producers with a livestock operation
added to their farms are being pushed towards HACCP by consumer demands for
food safety and more directly, the next in line along, the packing/processing
chain. "But on the grain side, I'm not seeing the same thing," says
Schreurs, adding that he knows of a national model that is being developed by
the Canadian Grain Commission. The commission is working with the Canadian Food
Inspection Agency on that, as part of the Agricultural Policy Framework. "So
there is work that is developing nationally in that regard that the field crops
can look at."
Several years ago, the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers initiated conversations
with Dr. Doug Powell of the University of Guelph to build a HACCP-like program
for their tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers. The move was seen as a proactive
step as exports from Ontario, to points in the US, continued to grow along with
concerns that shipments might be stopped at the border without suitable food
safety guidelines. Schreurs cites other initiatives like the Canadian Quality
Assurance in pork production and national commodity specific models being developed
with the Canadian Horticultural Council as other HACCP-based or HACCP-compliance
Coming in other forms
It is through another branch of the food value chain that Schreurs believes
HACCP implementation may take place. The key determinant is the role the producer
plays in the development of a food product. "Where HACCP guidelines may
dovetail is if I'm using a grain crop as an input to produce animal feed. Whether
they're requiring their input people to be HACCP compliant, I don't know,"
concedes Schreurs, adding that it may push its way all the way back to input
dealers, as well. "If I'm buying corn or grain for my pigs or beef cattle,
and I'm doing my own feed, I may want an input person to be HACCP compliant."
At present, however, Schreurs says there are no means to certify a farm dealership.
"I would review them and see what sort of equipment they have and help
and assist with HACCP compliance but HACCP is about the process, so they can
be HACCP compliant, but they can never be HACCP certified," he says.
There are a lot of misnomers in the industry, adds Schreurs, which is not to
say the mechanisms or processes they have in place are a bad idea. It simply
says people must understand the terminology to ensure they are getting exactly
what they want.
One thing is certain though, such programs that promote traceability and transparency
are coming, and instead of opposing them, Schreurs insists the time has come
to embrace the opportunity, or lose it. "There's nothing in the marketplace
that says it has to be done right now, but that's where the future is,"
he says. "Canada's primary resource pool is world class and if we can improve
our market access, add value to our input resources and export them, we've got
a huge potential that we're just not tapping into."
Reducing risk an added value
One company that has embraced the opportunity to reduce risk with a HACCP-like
program is Pride Seeds. The Chatham, Ontario, based seed company, which is part
of the AgReliant Genetics group, introduced an automated bagging and palletizer
unit into its operation in early 2004. According to Grant Craven, production
manager for Pride, the move comes in recognition of many factors, including
grower expectation. But on a day-to-day operations level, Craven says the transparency
issue is a sign of things to come.
As a registered establishment with the Canadian Seed Institute, Pride's facility
is accredited on four fronts: as an authorized importer, as an approved conditioner,
as a bulk storage facility and having an accredited laboratory facility. It
may cost more to have that accreditation, says Craven, but in the long-run,
it seems to be the kind of process the industry is going to demand. "We
didn't really have to change a lot of what we were doing, it really came down
to record keeping and documentation, including fine-tunings that won't change
the quality that we put out the door from one year to the next," explains
Craven. "That's why I say this isn't a whole lot different than someone
hanging an ISO90001/90002 banner across their property."
As for the palletizer, Craven points to it as another of the 'extra steps'
Pride Seeds is willing to take on the quality assurance issue. This equipment
has removed the 'human element' from much of the process of bagging and stacking.
And with it goes the potential for long-term repetitive injuries. "If you
can take the couple of extra steps further on saying what you do and doing what
you say and really coming through with quality in the bag, we want to make sure
it's there," says Craven, referring to the guiding principles of HACCP.
"And we take this one extra step further for our own worker safety when
we look at the automation with our palletizer, and the fact we're taking our
most-injury prone position away from the fate of our employees."
Craven agrees these safety-based procedures, and other HACCP-like or ISO protocols,
are not implementations that are visible to growers; they are unlikely to notice
any changes in the seed they plant or the crops that result. But like HACCP,
Craven believes it is the recognition of a process and its impact on the final
product that is increasing in its importance. "It's just one more way we
can assure a customer that we're going to get it right in the bag."