Removing Barriers to USDA GAP Programs
The USDA Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) Program offers a unique way for producers to access markets and verify their use of sound agricultural and food safety practices.
By incorporating good agricultural practices on your farm, you can reduce food safety risks while working to expand your business and access new markets. Foodborne illnesses have led consumers to demand more information than ever about food safety practices. As a result, growers and handlers are more frequently asked to demonstrate a commitment to food safety through third-party audits, known as a GAP certification.
Certification and passing the GAP audit does not guarantee that food is free of contamination; it does confirm that actions are being taken to reduce the risk of foodborne illness outbreaks originating from a farm. GAP certification also opens markets for producers to expand sales to major supermarket chains, school systems, restaurants, and other market outlets. Many retailers and foodservice buyers now require third-party GAP certification as a condition of contract.
When considering GAP certification, producers will need to understand how it will benefit their farm, what they should do first, and where they can find help.
Although the USDA audit is part of a voluntary program, it may help farms prepare for potential regulation from the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) unless they are exempt. FSMA, enacted in 2011, charged the FDA with developing regulations to establish safe growing, harvesting, packing, and holding standards for farms that fall under the Produce Safety Rule (PSR), a regulation using a preventative approach to food safety that incorporates the GAP framework. Farms are currently exempt from FSMA if their average annual food sales are less than $500,000 from the previous 3 years; and more than 50 percent of those food sales are to qualified end-users (restaurants, grocery, or retail food establishments) located in the same state or within a 275-mile radius of their farm.