Five of the countries from which the U.S. receives the lion’s share of its produce imports have taken significant steps to modernize their food safety systems over the past several years, according to a report released in late September by the Produce Safety Project at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
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Explore this issueOctober/November 2010
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The report, Legal and Regulatory Frameworks Governing the Growing, Packing and Handling of Fresh Produce in Countries Exporting to the U.S., presents a series of case studies examining five of the top 10 U.S. produce trade partners: Canada, Chile, China, Mexico, and Peru. With the volume of produce imported into the U.S. growing substantially, these countries’ produce safety standards make a huge difference in the American market. Those numbers grew from $2 billion worth of vegetables in 1998 to $4.1 billion in 2007 and, for fruit, from $3.9 billion to just over $8.9 billion during the same time period.
Overall, the case studies show substantial progress in standard setting for produce safety, said Albert F. Chambers, the report’s lead author. Monachus Consulting, an agri-food industry-consulting firm based in Canada, prepared the report.
Meeting International Standards
“Our findings are that these countries and their industries have taken steps to modernize their food safety activities and are treating the matter very seriously in an attempt to meet an emerging international standard,” Chambers said.
“China has the most detailed requirements for food exporters,” the report found. “These reflect its high-level commitment to protect the ‘China brand’ by eliminating practices that have tarnished the brand image in global markets.”
“Of course, we’re limited in the information we can find about how well the new standards are working in China,” says Chambers. But there is some evidence. In 2009, Hong Kong officials conducted a test of its export-safety agreement with the mainland by inspecting 470 vehicles transporting vegetables to Hong Kong from China at the border crossing. All shipments were properly documented, and none of the 370 samples tested for pesticide residue yielded “unsatisfactory” results. “Based on that evidence, these initiatives are having an impact,” said Chambers.