by SUSAN MANN
Six Ontario greenhouse growers who export into the American market are being audited by United States officials as part of new food safety legislation there.
Richard Lee, operations manager for the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers Association, says to the best of their knowledge this is the first time Ontario greenhouse growers will be audited by officials from a foreign government.
However, they’re not concerned American inspectors are looking at Canadian farmers’ operations “based on the fact we believe our food safety measures are adequate and meet or exceed industry standards,” he says.
Jan VanderHout, Ontario greenhouse growers board vice chair, agrees. “Ontario greenhouse growers are leaders in food safety because we’ve implemented a mandatory food safety requirement four years ago.”
VanderHout, who is not one of the growers being audited, says the board hasn’t heard any concerns from the farmers scheduled for the U.S. audits. “These growers have been exporting for an extended period of time and I think they’re confident they’re doing what their customers require.”
The move to food safety inspections of farmers’ operations is customer driven, he adds. “It’s what people are coming to expect in their food.”
American legislators approved updated food safety legislation in January. “Their first tier of audits is aimed at auditing more than 660 facilities that import into the United States of any consumable goods,” Lee says. By 2016, American inspectors have set a goal of having 19,600 facilities worldwide audited.
Greenhouse production has been identified as one of the areas American officials will be auditing, he says. Ontario growers have told their association they’ve been contacted by Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officials to schedule appointments for audits. None have been held so far. They were slated to begin earlier this month but have been delayed with some being rescheduled for later this month and in May.
Farmers here don’t have to pay for the U.S. audits. Lee says Ontario greenhouse growers already undergo Canadian audits by a third-party independent auditor as part of getting their license.
The U.S. audits will focus on food safety and biosecurity measures. They’ve been scheduled to take up to two days each. “We also have an indication that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) will be attending as well to accompany the U.S. FDA,” Lee explains.
The American food safety modernization legislation doesn’t have all of the criteria spelled out yet so Lee didn’t know if Ontario growers must undergo regular audits by U.S. inspectors.
On the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association website a question was raised about whether equivalence in food safety requirements exists between the CFIA and its U.S. counterpart and, if so, why are additional audits by American inspectors needed?
There wasn’t anyone available at the CFIA today to answer the question about equivalence.
Lee says 70 per cent of the product Ontario greenhouse farmers grow is exported to the U.S. There are more than 1,900 acres of greenhouses in Ontario. BF