A panel at the recent Food Safety of California Convention gave viewers a glimpse of hope for a brighter future in the industry. The moderator of the panel was Tom Jones, senior director of analytic sciences with the Safe Food Alliance.
Although important topics like food safety and processing were discussed by the panel, Jones found himself most impressed by the audience.
“The number of young people that are interested in agriculture and the food industry really gives you hope for the future,” he said.
Jones also said he was also pleasantly surprised by the implied support from Capitol Hill in Washington. “They are actually quite excited to be involved with agriculture. They think it’s an important or noble thing to be doing that job for their representative in Congress, which is a real shift from even a few years ago,” he explained.
The Safe Food Alliance was founded in 2016 as a sister organization to the DFA of California, a nonprofit trade association that has expanded beyond quality inspections to servicing new commodities. To find out more about the Safe Food Alliance and their services, you can visit their website here.
California farmers are careful with crop protection products because they know the importance of producing safe and wholesome food for their customers across the nation and in their export markets. “However, I think that there are some real challenges facing growers in California today,” said Thomas Jones, senior analytical services director for the Fresno-based Safe Food Alliance.
“As growers send their commodities around the world, they’re facing increasing challenges of knowing the right chemicals to apply and at what levels. We have our own strict regulations within California, if needed, [that govern] not only the application but also the maximum residue levels (MRL) or tolerances allowed for various crops,” said Jones.
“That’s also carried onto the federal level; we have very strict EPA regulations. But as we [export] into other countries, they may have entirely different regulations,” said Jones. He noted this could be confusing not only to farmers, but also to registrants of crop protection materials because there is a lack of standardization of MRLs in different countries.
“Historically, there was the CODEX system, a UN-based system geared towards a more international standard for pesticide residues. It was very thought out, and very scientifically based,” Jones said.
However, as Jones explained, many countries do not want to follow the important scientific standard. “Increasingly, we are seeing countries want to establish their own systems, their own tolerances. They may be responding to their own political pressures within their countries.”
“We are seeing a process called ‘deharmonization’ in which every country wants to establish its own positive list of what is allowed and what is not allowed in [farm] products. Sometimes, those are in agreement with U.S. regulations and California state regulations; sometimes they are not. So it is important that [our] growers know not only what is legal in this country and in our state, but also what is allowed in their target [export] markets.”
Jones commented it is now known that some of these marketers [apply] random low MRLs and keep other MRLs high on some of their own products in order to get a marketing edge. “Some of those MRLs may or may not be based on any scientific standards.”
“There are a number of great tools out there,” he said. “There are a number of great software programs. Obviously, anything that [information growers] can get out of the print media or any educational courses are really essential. It is important to work with your Pest Control Adviser (PCA), as well. It’s important that [farmers] know what they are up against, as far as growing these crops,” said Jones.
The Safe Food Alliance is available to growers to help them qualify to meet the standards in the U.S. and abroad. “We [provide] training twice a year on fumigation safety for the various processors of dried fruits and tree nuts. We focus particularly on commodity fumigations and on what treatments are allowed and not allowed. We also have a full-service pesticide-testing laboratory and are very aware of the requirements in these other countries, so we’re happy to help both processors and growers with our monitoring efforts,” noted Jones.
Featured Photo: For these California-grown peaches to be shippable to any out-of-state U.S. consumers or international export markets, they must meet scientific Maximum Residue Levels (MRLs).