Sunday 29 November, 2020

Food safety certification launched for local crops

Photos courtesy GrowTT.

Photos courtesy GrowTT.

Consumers worried about food safety can now look for a seal confirming their fresh produce is safe to eat. 

The Cropper Foundation launched the Grown Safe Certification Programme (GSCP) and has piloted the GrowTT brand which is currently selling lettuce with the special GSCP seal at local Massy Stores branches.

The programme involves training for farmers in order to ensure that fresh produce contains no harmful or unsafe levels of pesticides or any microbial bacteria.

Zico Cozier, Communications Officer at the Cropper Foundation, said the much-needed certification will help both consumers and farmers.

He said the project aims to train farmers regarding sustainable practices and help them seek suitable markets for their produce.

“The core project centres around helping farmers follow sustainable farming practices to get access to suitable markets.

“If farmers adopt more sustainable practices it may initially incur an additional cost, and going to market with slightly higher prices may be difficult. It’s hard for small-scale farmers to get the leverage they need.

“Through GSCP, we work with local farmers and become a kind of middle man between them and the consumer.”

The programme outlines guidelines for better sanitation practices, pesticide regulation and other best practices for health and safety within the farming industry.

Produce are also tested for bacteria such as salmonella and E. coli.

Cozier said the programme has also partnered with NAMDEVCO and ICA to monitor farm practices and food safety.

"GSCP provides a guarantee that any levels of pesticide residue or micro-bacterial content on the certified produce, if present at all, will not pose any threat to human health."

Cozier said embracing food that’s safe to eat often involves a change of perspective.

“The main driver locally is the price and appearance. What we keep trying to drive home is that people will examine a tomato and if they see a bruise they won’t pick it up. That has no impact on your health. If a fruit or vegetable is exposed to fewer chemicals it’s more likely to have these natural reactions as opposed to an artificially preserved fruit or vegetable.”

“We’re teaching customers to view produce differently.”

GrowTT was launched as a way to test GSCP produce and has launched lettuce products through Massy Stores.

He added that the produce is also sold in biodegradable packaging.

“We want people also want to appreciate the value of safely grown food. We want people to support local farmers and we want that audience that is aware of local produce so they can access these products.”

“Small scale farmers might not have the resources to put fancy branding on their products and get it into stores so we’re providing a legitimate certified programme that allows them to be trained, monitored and lab-tested, so that they can certify their produce is safe to eat, locally grown and sustainably farmed.”

He said that they have a limited number of farmers enrolled in the programme at the moment but hope to get more people enrolled next year.

Healthier, safer produce

Cozier said GrowTT is also looking to launch more GSCP products including pak choi, tomatoes, kale, broccoli, sweet peppers and more.

The brand is currently in nine Massy Stores branches but they plan to expand to the rest of the branches soon.

Cozier added that in the current climate, these crops have an added benefit in terms of food safety, especially for crops like lettuce which are not cooked prior to eating.

“GSCP makes it extremely safe for consumption. Because of COVID-19, NAMDEVCO announced that all produce must be packaged. People want locally grown, fresh vegetables, and now with the mandate it must be packaged we already have the best product which can put the buyer’s mind at ease.”

Alyssa Black, Project Officer at the GSCP programme, said that having worked with farmers, they realise that some use of pesticides is necessary but regulation is needed to ensure they are safe to eat.

“After working with farmers we realise that it’s really the misuse of pesticides which poses a danger, as well as the types of chemicals they use.

“It’s about proper regulation and approved pesticides, such as those with ‘green labels’, which are not harmful."

How to apply

Farmers who meet the programme's entry criteria can complete the online registration form or speak directly to a NAMDEVCO Field Officer to enroll in the programme.

Enrolled farmers will be notified to attend mandatory training on good agricultural practices involving proper pesticide use and food safety handling in the production of fresh produce.

Trained farmers will receive monitoring and field inspections to ensure farms meet the criteria for testing.

Sampling and testing of fresh produce and water sources will be conducted for pesticide residue levels and microbial bacteria.

Farmers who have passed the testing criteria will then be certified as a GSCP producer. Certification takes on average 8-12 weeks to obtain and is valid for a period of one year.

Lastly, field support is provided to certified producers’ to ensure that guiding principles are being followed, inclusive of random re-testing and training throughout the certification period.

About the GSCP programme

The GSCP certification is a pilot programme developed as part of the ‘Making Agriculture Profitable and Sustainable’ project which is being implemented by The Cropper Foundation in collaboration with several state, multilateral, private sector and civil society organisations.

The National Agricultural Marketing and Development Corporation (NAMDEVCO) facilitates field monitoring of GSCP registered farmers to ensure crop production guidelines are followed.

The Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) oversees and structures the training programme for GSCP based on the voluntary food production guidelines of GAP (Good Agricultural Practices).

The Caribbean Industrial Research Institute (CARIRI) in conjunction with international laboratories, facilitates the testing for pesticide residues and microbial bacteria.

This initiative was made possible through funding from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB Lab).

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