We closed our initial piece on the subject of WGA’s response to the Food Safety Leadership Council by pointing out the need to lower the emotion level:
One thing is sure: Buyers and sellers have to live together, so some civility in our discussions is essential for the long term success and prosperity of the trade. We better all take a deep breath and let vertically integrated associations step in and try to find some common ground.
And the new joint produce association letter strikes us as an effort in the right direction. Yet we would urge the associations in talking with the Food Safety Leadership Council to not become protectors of one particular way of doing business.
Yes, the traditional way of produce trading involved one typically USDA set grade or standard and everyone could trade with everyone around that standard. It is not 100% clear that this is the optimal model for obtaining food safety. We ran a letter during the spinach crisis that you can read here. The letter pointed out that food safety, like flavor and other product attributes, can best be obtained in a highly aligned supply chain in which the alignment is based on achieving certain goals — such as safety.
It may well be that the industry image the produce association letter envisions — one industry standard — may not be the optimal standard for food safety at all. It may be that Darden working closely with its vendors — not buying some standard industry spec — is the answer. Mark Munger of Andrew & Williamson told us that was his experience here.
The difference between McDonald’s or Darden and the plan as Publix sent it out is that the vendors working with McDonald’s or Darden are exactly that — their vendors — and they are definitely going to get the business. That makes a world of difference in a vendor’s ability and willingness to invest in high food safety standards.
What the Food Safety Leadership Council companies need to understand is that they can add whatever standards they choose to the base one, but they can’t expect farmers to make these investments without a commitment on the buyer’s part to give the business to those who meet these standards.