Conflicts between food safety requirements and conservation practices have made it critical for organic farmers and agricultural resource professionals to understand how conservation and food safety can be co-managed. After the E. coli 0157:H7 spinach contamination in 2006, which led to misguided habitat destruction, there was confusion on how organic farmers would continue to comply with the National Organic Program rule to conserve biodiversity.
Farmers can produce safe food without sacrificing conservation measures such as maintaining riparian habitat or other non-crop vegetation. Conservation practices and natural areas often reduce pathogen risk, with researchers showing that wetlands and grasses filter pathogens such as E.coli, and provide many other benefits, including soil and water conservation, and habitat for pollinators and beneficial insects.
Through this project Wild Farm Alliance (WFA) has researched and co-published three valuable resources with Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) on the co-management of food safety and conservation:
- Farming With Food Safety and Conservation in Mind
- A Farmer’s Guide to Food Safety and Conservation: Facts, Tips and Frequently Asked Questions
- Training Scenarios for USDA and Third Party Auditors on the Co-management of Food Safety and Conservation as well as Small and Mid-Size Farm Concerns
Organic farmers can use the strategies provided by these resources to make management decisions that include conservation measures, and effectively advocate for their farming practices with buyers and food safety auditors.
In addition to educating farmers and auditors about food safety and conservation, these publications have been used to educate Congress and FDA about the critical need for co-management of food safety and conservation. This resulted in Congress requiring the FDA to consider conservation mandates when crafting the rules. FDA acknowledged these mandates in the preamble to the proposed produce rule, stating that they don’t expect farmers to remove wildlife habitat, and encouraging farmers to use sustainable conservation practices that can enhance food safety.