GroupGAP Program Announced by USDA – what does this mean for Michigan?
By Jude Barry and Kathleen Reed, MSU Center for Regional Food Systems
With the release of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) in 2011 and with pressure from larger food buyers requesting evidence of food safety certification, many producers and processors across the country are feeling a need to provide evidence of certification that shows they have taken measures to minimize the risk of food safety recalls and food safety issues.
The USDA offers Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) audit services which verify businesses adherence to the recommendations made by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in their Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables (pdf). GAP certification is a voluntary process but, due to costs and resources to achieve, was thought to be obtainable only by larger producers and processors.
However, on April 4, 2016, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) announced the official launch of GroupGAP, a new certification program that helps small and mid-sized growers and cooperatives collaborate to meet retailers’ on-farm food safety requirements. The Wallace Center (2012) work suggests that GroupGAP certification programs are cost effective methods of auditing that allows sharing both the costs and associated risks among a group of producers; for example, if there are additional expenses should a farm fail an audit.
Before the launch of the USDA AMS GroupGAP program, GroupGAP was piloted in 7 sites across the USA and thanks to some hardworking individuals, proved to be very successful in the Upper Peninsula in Michigan. The Upper Peninsula Food Exchange GroupGAP Pilot began work with the National GroupGap Pilot project led by the Wallace Center in 2013. Full details of this project can be found here.
Natasha Lantz, of the Upper Peninsula Food Exchange (UPFE), sees that, “GroupGAP is a practical approach to ensure that farms of any size can efficiently and affordably obtain the food safety certifications necessary to sell into wholesale markets that are clamoring for Michigan grown produce.” The initial Pilot Program has led to the development of a statewide GroupGAP Program that will be managed under a single Quality Management System administered by Cherry Capital Foods. “Everything is pointing to a successful outcome because we have all the right players at the table and have been both cautious and deliberate in our work from the beginning,” said Lantz.
Michelle Napier-Dunnings, Executive Director of the Michigan Food and Farming Systems program and involved in the GroupGAP pilot program in the UP said “The dedication and hard work of the UP Food Exchange Team set the ground work for the expansion of Group GAP throughout the state. The development of their materials, process, evaluations, and most importantly a collaborative spirit helped the entire state participate in the pilot and prepared us for the USDA Group GAP launch.”
Michelle went on to say, “Today, there is a statewide food safety workgroup that sees success as a collective process. We are building statewide capacity for GroupGAP as a team that spans governmental agencies, non-profit service organizations, for-profit companies in multiple economic sectors, MSU Extension, and farmers. Most importantly, the farmers that GroupGAP was designed to serve, continue to be the focal point of the work.”
Phil Britton, who was previously the Quality Management System Manager for the UP Food Exchange GroupGAP Pilot Project and is now overseeing the GroupGAP collaborative effort statewide, noted that, “The success of the UP Food Exchange pilot laid the foundation that Cherry Capital Foods built the program on. We are now partnering with other food hubs in Michigan and expanding the program statewide as the MI GroupGAP Network.”
For more information on GroupGAP, the experiences in Michigan, and the launch of the USDA AMS GroupGAP program, please visit the following resources:
ZumBrunnen, M., Pirog, R., Walk, M., Britton, P., Tocco, P., & Lantz, N. (2015). Small farmers can make food safety work: The GroupGAP pilot project in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems.
Wallace Center at Winrock International. (2012). USDA/Good Natured Family Farms GroupGAP pilot project: Report and assessment. Arlington, VA.