The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) recently announced the launch of GroupGAP, a new certification program that helps small and mid-sized growers and cooperatives (including greenhouse vegetable producers) meet retailers’ on-farm food safety requirements.
“We know that GAP certification can sometimes be cost-prohibitive for smaller farmers,” says AMS Administrator Elanor Starmer. “GroupGAP allows these farmers to demonstrate compliance with strong food safety standards and share the cost of certification across a group of growers. That means greater market access for farmers, more options for consumers, and strong verification of food safety practices.”
After a three-year pilot, AMS is now accepting applications for enrollment in GroupGAP, which certifies that grower groups are following industry-recognized food safety practices. By leveraging economies of scale and increasing efficiencies, GroupGAP improves market access for small and mid-sized growers and benefits the entire produce industry.
The AMS Specialty Crops Inspection Division (SCI) performs Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) audits, which are voluntary audits to verify that farms are following industry-recognized food safety practices and recommendations from the FDA. Produce buyers, large and small, are increasingly requiring suppliers to be GAP certified. Under GroupGAP, farmers, food hubs, and cooperatives work together to obtain group certification. Their participation in the program in turn benefits retailers and other large-volume buyers, who are better able to meet the increasing demand for local foods and broaden their base of suppliers.
AMS GroupGAP audits include an analysis of the group’s system of oversight, a site visit to ensure compliance with various procedures, and spot checks to verify appropriate on-farm implementation.