SANDUSKY, Ohio — It’s been at least six years in the making, but the nation’s first fresh fruit and vegetable regulatory certification program could soon be complete.
The Ohio Produce Marketing Agreement — a farmer-organized certification program — is being reviewed by legal staff at the Ohio Department of Agriculture and a decision could be made any day.
Speaking at the Ohio produce growers congress in Sandusky Jan. 20, project manager Karl Kolb said he thinks a decision could come by February.
Participation in the program, often called OPMA, is voluntary. It’s made up of an advisory board of farmer-members and sets food safety standards for produce growers that organizers say are scale-appropriate, while also meeting state and federal requirements.
Kolb said OPMA already has three certified farmer members, but believes hundreds more will apply once the program is approved by the state. The break-even target is to have 535 farms signed up.
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The program came about as an alternative to certain national food safety programs, which were formed on a one-size-fits-all set of regulations and fees.
There are three tiers of participation, designed to meet the needs of everyone from roadside markets to interstate and national markets.
The choices are as follows:
Tier I: Operators with direct farm sales, roadside farm markets, farmer’s markets, CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) and other operators who do not wish to participate in the other tier levels but want to demonstrate the Ohio food safety standard. These operators are required to undergo annual training and meet core standards, with voluntary compliance and random inspections.
Tier II: This choice is for operators with Operators with intra-state sales (inside the state), designed for produce auctions and produce handlers in general. Annual training is required and operators must comply with the standards and scheduled inspections.
Tier III: This option applies to operators at the interstate and national level. GFSI audits are offered in subsequent years and operators must undergo annual training, meet the core standards and GFSI/ISO standards. These operators are subject to mandatory inspections, including unannounced inspections.
Inspections are scored “pass” or “fail,” based on whether the operator meets the OPMA standards.
It is possible to be certified in more than one tier, depending on your needs as an operator. Most small farms will fit the Tier I category.
Basic membership costs $25 for an individual, or $50 for a business. A tier II or III operator will pay $650 for one day of inspection, with additional fees if more time and resources are required.
Fees are much less for tier I (small farm) operators, and they can opt out of certain inspections that are required of larger operations.
While OPMA was developed for operators in Ohio, Kolb said anyone nationwide can become a member and use the benefits of the certification. The standards, processes and inspection system are universally applicable and are compliant with the International Standards Organization.
He cautioned that the federal Food Safety Modernization Act, which was signed into law by President Obama in January of 2011, could change some of the OPMA standards in time.
He recommends producers review the OPMA and FSMA often, to keep abreast of any changes. The most likely changes, he said, would be to how OPMA regulates water usage, and composting and manure storage.
While those changes are still unclear, Kolb said one thing that is clear is OPMA’s respect for the National Organic Program, or NOP.
“If you’re organic, we have total respect for what you’re doing and we will not in any way, shape or form get between you and your certifier,” he said.
The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act may change standards or information posted on OPMA web sites. It is strongly recommended to check these sites often for updates to certification requirements, standards, or procedures.
For extensive information about OPMA, visit www.opga.org and click on the OPMA icon in the center of the page. Or, you can find the OPMA link under the “Navigation” bar on the left side of the page.
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The OPMA program seems not only light weight but open to abuse. Such has been the finding in relation to most grower developed and voluntary programs world wide. The end result is that consumers loose faith in all food safety programs. Meeting the standards of a GFSI benchmarked program can be easy provided growers keep their cool, select an ethical consultant (not one just wanting to make money), ensure their third party audit has ‘common sense’ and join an industry association or local group that will argue collectively for the above.