Food Safety And Labor Issues

Food safety and labor and immigration are arguably two of the biggest issues facing the agricultural industry today. Rising input and fuel costs probably rank right up there on growers’ lists, as well. If I asked you whether growers would be able to resume the same production and harvesting practices as prior to the 2006 E. coli outbreak in spinach, you would probably say, hands-down, “No.” In the area of labor, if I asked you whether or not some kind of resolution will take place before the next election, you might also say “No.”

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Within the last month or so, however, that “No” for labor and immigration just may be a “Maybe.” There is a little glimmer of hope for reform, thanks to the proposed changes to the regulations governing the H-2A program. Those proposed changes are intended to comply with President Bush’s directive to review and streamline the H-2A program to make it more effective for providing legal labor for agriculture. The downside of that is, only about 2% of H-2A workers are brought into the country through the H-2A program.

In spite of the small percentage, the door is now open and change may possibly come. In the past, we have encouraged you to contact your senators and representatives on this subject. Once again, we ask you to make that call and let them know about your labor needs.

Keepin’ It Clean

Change has and probably will continue to take place in the food safety arena. We now live in a world where food safety concerns at growing operations are paramount to buyers. Responding to the 2006 foodborne illness outbreak, the California Leafy Greens Handler Marketing Agreement (LGMA) was formed in the spring of 2007. The good news is that last year there were no foodborne illnesses associated with California leafy greens. 

About eight months ago, government inspectors started conducting mandatory food safety audits for members of the LGMA. Last month, the organization released its first status report detailing audit findings from July through December 2007. The report indicated that members of the LGMA have greatly enhanced internal food safety systems involved in the production of leafy greens. Another point of interest is that food safety expenditures by LGMA member companies have increased by 201% since September 2006. That is a significant increase in the food safety bill.

What are your thoughts on the food safety front? We asked growers in a recent issue of VegWire Online, AVG’s e-mail newsletter, if they thought food safety regulations were acceptable. About 45% of respondents agreed with that statement. However, some readers feel that in some instances food safety measures have been taken too far.

To read some of their responses, go to www.americanvegetablegrower.com and click on Bonus Coverage.