From farm to fork

  • Good Agricultural Practices bring safe and wholesome food to the table
- Arun GC
Thanks to globalisation, food systems are becoming more complex. Contamination can occur at every point in the food supply chain, right from a farmer’s field to what we get in our plates

Dec 13, 2018-According to the World Health Organization, every year, consumption of unsafe or contaminated food causes 420,000 deaths globally. One might suppose that owing to lack of appropriate food safety measures, most of the population of the least developed and developing countries are more susceptible to foodborne diseases. However, the proposition is nullified by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which has estimated that in the United States, one in six American falls ill, around 128,000 people are hospitalised and 3,000 die due to the foodborne disease annually. The case isnt much different in Europe either. Therefore safe food is a global issue.  

Providing safe food to consumers is one of today’s most pressing problems. Thanks to globalisation, just like everything else, food systems are becoming more complex, too. Foodborne diseases are caused by various bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins, and chemicals. More importantly, food contamination can occur at every point in the food supply chain, right from a farmer’s field to what we get in our plates. Acknowledging the wide spectrum of the risks of contamination, preventive approaches should be considered holistically.


Good Agriculture Practice (GAP)

In the quest for safe food, the EUREPGAP was established in the 1990s by seventeen retailers in Europe. It is eventually renamed as Global G.A.P, which is a voluntary and private standard. Good Agriculture Practice (GAP) is the set of standards that need to be followed to produce safe food with due consideration of the environment and with consideration of the health, safety and welfare of workers.  

Most commonly, people might misunderstand GAP for merely producing agricultural commodities in a process that is safe and wholesome. But what they often forget is the certification aspect. Without it, GAP will only be Good Package of Practice.

In some instances, GAP is also used interchangeably with Integrated Pest Management (IPM) or organic food. However, GAP is fundamentally different from IPM or organic food and other similar approaches. For example, IPM is focused on judicial uses of pesticide to reduce the risk of pesticide-induced food safety and its adverse effects on the environment at large. On the other hand, organic food is a more stringent approach of agriculture that forbidden the use of any synthetic chemical in farming. But neither of the above approaches ensures safe food although each of the approaches has its own significance.

GAP is supposed to be a superior and pragmatic approach among others because of its wider consideration and practicality. It is generally composed of four modules—food safety, environment management, produce quality and worker health, safety, and quality, along with general requirements. GAP doesn’t impose new stringent conditions and requirements.

Rather, it systematise practices and codes of conducts in a good manner as scientifically proven and the practice recorded. Mostly, GAP identifies potential risks and tries to control these risks at sources. Moreover, to make the agriculture system economically, socially and environmentally sustainable, it converses food safety, environmental management and quality of the product along with workers welfare together as a single system.


Who benefits?

From a consumer’s point of view, the benefit provided by GAP is that it ensures the availability of safe food produced in a sustainable manner. Then quite naturally, the primary beneficiary is the consumer in this system. In the case of farmers, the immediate monetary incentive cannot be guaranteed. However, farmers certainly reap economic benefits in the long run.

Generally, the farmer’s economic benefit is contingent on resource use efficiency, credibility and loss reduction. Still, the premium price of their products is particularly important. Similarly, for traders, it is all about credibility and customer satisfaction. In many cases, GAP is a prerequisite for the food system. The benefits do not stop here. At the national level, GAP will help make rural development more sustainable and can even be leveraged to enhance trade interests.  Furthermore, excessive health-related burdens caused by contaminated food will be reduced substantially. Likewise, GAP always aligns itself with national regulation (in the case of public GAP), which will in turn support the nation in implementing legislation.

By principle, GAP is a voluntary and customer-driven standard and certification system. If you are producing an agricultural product for the European market, you might not have any option aside from Global G.A.P. However, if your target market is domestic, not opting for the national GAP is not likely a wiser alternative.

In most of the cases, public GAP is subsidised, if not free of charge—which is necessary for local farmers. More importantly, varied geography has different risks associated with food safety. In Africa, cyanide poisoning in cassava is a major threat. Whereas in Asia, Europe, and America, microbial contamination is the prime concern. In the specific case of Nepal, haphazard use of pesticides for certain crops is a major concern along with microbial contamination.Therefore, universal standards do not always lead to food safety and environment management.

To overcome the devastating global effects of foodborne diseases some effective actions are urgently required. Along with food safety, sustainable agriculture and food systems are an integral part of the mission to meet our sustainable development goal.

However, making the GAP as simple as possible and reducing additional burdens on the production system will be of paramount importance for the sustainability of GAP itself. To ensure the success of the GAP, initiation and pro-activeness should be exhibited from consumers and  an appropriate level of incentives should be offered to farmers to encourage them to produce food safely and sustainably.


- GC is an officer at the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development.

Published: 13-12-2018 07:30

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