Growers have always been concerned with providing the public with safe, healthy produce. Following the 2006 E. Coli outbreak associated with spinach, however, food safety became a heightened concern for industry in the region. Actions taken in response to that particular outbreak led to unintended consequences on grower stewardship efforts. Suddenly, some growers who had been implementing conservation practices were facing pressure from buyers and auditors to remove noncrop vegetation, waterbodies, and wildlife near crops in the interest of food safety.
AWQA strives to respond to grower needs and support growers in overcoming barriers to conservation. After the 2006 E. Coli outbreak, growers and conservation technical staff identified the need to reconcile perceived conflicts between food safety and conservation as a priority for AWQA and the region to address. AWQA responded, taking leadership roles to bring scientific reasoning to food safety discussions, foster collaboration, and develop tools for "co-management." For example, UCCE, the Coalition, and the Sanctuary worked together to plan and host a co-management conference seeking to find a genuine balance between food safety and water quality management on the farm, taking into account the implications for growers. Foreseeing potential burdens and undo expense for growers attempting to co-manage we developed trainings for auditors to educate them on the design and benefits of conservation practices. We developed a technical field guide and trained conservation planners on ways to take food safety into consideration when advising growers to reduce undue strain on them. In addition, we conducted research on vegetated practices and E. coli survival in agricultural soils, surveyed growers to better characterize the conflicts, hosted various co-management workshops and field tours, and supported regional collaboration on these issues through the Farm, Food Safety & Conservation Network.
Much uncertainty remains, but AWQA continues to work with industry to address these challenges.
For more information on the issue and partner responses, please visit the following links:
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