Nov 14, 2008
Food Safety Debated; No-match Rule Gets Closer

Some pointed food safety comments have been printed on our Marketplace of Ideas page the last few months.

I like that. It’s good to know our readers are paying attention and actively participating in the debates of the day. I’d like to see more opinions. They give me a better feel for the “on-the-ground” concerns of vegetable growers. (If you want to give me your opinion, e-mail me at [email protected], or call 616-887-9008 ext. 102.)

Let’s delve into some of these controversies, shall we?

On page 44 of our November issue, Mike Adolph, food safety manager at K.W. Zellers & Son in Hartville, Ohio, wrote a Letter to the Editor objecting to a picture of a dog in a farm field (October 2008, page 16).

“How can we promote food safety and continue to see the family pet in the production field?” he asked.

Shortly after the November issue was published, we received an e-mail from John W. Saylor, opining that Adolph is “a bit out of touch with the real world.” Everywhere you find food, you’ll find animals – if I’m interpreting Saylor’s words correctly. He advised Adolph to “check your bed the next time you get in it.”

Interesting stuff – and both men make good points. Growers are under tremendous pressure to keep animal waste – a potential bearer of disease – out of their fields and off their produce. Maybe too much pressure.

Has it really gotten to the point where the farm dog can’t run around the farm anymore? And even if a grower keeps his dog away, is it really possible for him to protect his crops from every animal in nature? He’d need some sort of impenetrable laser barrier around his fields or something. Even if that were possible (it might be someday, who knows?), it wouldn’t be cheap.

For those unfortunate growers who don’t own impenetrable laser barriers, it’s virtually impossible to keep every animal out of their fields. That’s probably not Adolph’s point, though. Just because we can’t keep our fields completely protected doesn’t mean we just give up and let a herd of wildlife crash through them. If a positive public image demands that we keep Rover away from the crops (at least while the cameras are clicking), then I guess that’s what we have to do. It’s just kind of sad things have gotten to that point.

So, will Vegetable Growers News run another picture of a dog in a farm field?

Only if we’re desperate for good photos.

Chris Sawyer of Jakes Farm in Candler, N.C., addressed food safety from a slightly different angle. In a Letter to the Editor printed on page 28 of our October issue, he wrote: “I find agritourism and food safety to be in opposition to each other.”

If he wants Good Agricultural Practices certification for his farm, Sawyer is now required to keep a visitor log of everyone who sets foot on his property. “I would sure like the same sort of protection for liability against foodborne illness that those farmers enjoy who rake in thousands letting anyone and everyone tramp willy-nilly through the food crops,” he wrote.

He ended his letter with a bang:

“The whole burden for protection of the food supply rests on the farmer, and little help seems forthcoming from the powers that be.”

Amen to that, brother.

Before I drop any other opinion bombs on this issue, however, I want to learn more. If any of you reading know anything about this or have any sort of opinion, e-mail me. Call me. Write me a letter. Actually, don’t write me a letter. It’s a slow, inefficient way to communicate.

No-match update

There’s finally been some movement regarding the “no-match” controversy. On Oct. 23, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a supplemental rule that provides additional background for its original “no-match” rule.

According to DHS, the no-match rule, originally issued in August 2007, attempts to clarify the steps employers can take to resolve discrepancies identified in “no-match” letters issued by the Social Security Administration (SSA).

Implementation of the no-match rule was delayed last fall, following a preliminary injunction issued by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The delay was meant to give the court time to settle a lawsuit filed against the no-match rule by the American Civil Liberties Union, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, United Fresh Produce Association, American Nursery and Landscape Association and dozens of other trade groups.

DHS issued the supplemental rule to address the issues raised by the litigation. The supplemental rule included a more detailed analysis of the no-match policy and its economic ramifications.

Every year, SSA sends thousands of “no-match” letters to employers, informing them when an employee’s name and Social Security number on a W-2 form don’t match SSA’s records. About 4 percent of the approximately 250 million wage reports SSA receives each year belong to employees whose names and numbers don’t match SSA records, according to DHS.

The way I understand it, employers who correctly follow the steps outlined in the no-match rule won’t get hassled by the feds for hiring illegal workers.

DHS will soon publish the supplemental final rule in the Federal Register. If a Northern District of California judge agrees that DHS has addressed all procedural objections, the no-match rule will be the law of the land.

Kuperus resigns

New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Charles Kuperus will resign effective Dec. 31. He plans to return to his family’s farm in Sussex County, according to the New Jersey Department of Agriculture.

Upon becoming secretary of NJDA in 2002, Kuperus restructured the department to make it more efficient and to better reflect the issues impacting agriculture in his home state and throughout the nation. He was instrumental in creating the Division of Food and Nutrition, underscoring the importance of instilling healthy eating habits in school students, feeding the hungry and making fresh farm products more accessible to residents in areas traditionally underserved by supermarkets, according to NJDA.

I saw Kuperus speak during a farm market tour in 2005. He seemed like a passionate, well-spoken advocate for agriculture.

For a more comprehensive look at the department’s major initiatives since Kuperus took the post, visit www.nj.gov/agriculture/pdf/NJDAinitiatives.pdf.

A replacement for Kuperus will be named in the coming months, according to NJDA.





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