Organic farmers must support biodiversity but some food safety concerns pressure farmers to restrict habitat and wildlife on or near the farm. Other incongruities include prohibiting the use of essential compost manures to replenish soils as these amendments are perceived as a risk to food safety, and certain pretreatments for water sanititation that fall into conflict with the substances allowed for organic certification and on-farm use. 

While the organic farming community has identified compliance with food safety and other regulations as a critical issue, up until now, no entity has captured the collective experience of struggling to comply with these regulations and other potential and important knowledge gaps facing the organic farming community.  

This planning grant will fill this gap by conducting a needs assessment utilizing a national survey and convening a multi-stakeholder summit to pinpoint the most challenging incongruities between food safety and USDA National Organic Program (NOP) policies.  These activities will determine which producers are most impacted on a national level and which food safety requirements are most difficult to synchronize with NOP standards, while also prioritizing which research and knowledge gaps can best address these specific conflicts. 

The long-term impact of this research is to ultimately provide organic growers and industry members with cost-effective and organic-compliant tools to mitigate food safety risks and retain their third-party certification. Specifically, the aim is to collaborate with organic farmers, certifiers and researchers to develop a full USDA OREI (Organic Research Extension Research Initiative) proposal for 2023 submission. 

We have identified key needs. These include but are not limited to:  

  • Determine regulatory conflicts between the NOP and various food safety requirements. 

  • Quantify the risks of wildlife intrusion and develop solutions when necessary. 

  • Assess the prevalence of microbial contamination from windborne dust. 

  • Develop efficient, accurate, and affordable in-field testing to monitor for potential microbial contamination from various sources. 

  • Develop effective sanitizers that are compliant with NOP standards, and validate their efficacy to improve food safety.