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UC Davis Workshop Highlights National Collaboration on Food Safety in Organic Agriculture

January 29, 2016

Co-PIs Drs. Alda Pires and Michele Jay-Russell (center) with project partners

Co-PIs Drs. Alda Pires and Michele Jay-Russell (center) with project partners

The UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and its partners recently brought together more than 30 producers, industry members and experts from across the country to discuss food safety in the fast-growing segment of organic agriculture, as part of a project funded by USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI).  Participants included representatives from the UC Davis Western Center for Food Safety, the Organic Trade Association, the FDA Division of Produce Safety and the Division of Risk and Decision Analysis, the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS), the Association of Compost Producers, the Organic Center, among others.

Information gathered at the workshop on the industry’s use of manure and compost will help project leaders develop a full-scale research proposal to assess the efficacy of practices in the U.S. to reduce the risk of foodborne pathogens on organic farms.  It will also help inform and guide policy such as the FDA’s Produce Safety Rule that is recommending more research on waiting periods between raw manure application and harvest.

Facilitated by co-PIs Drs. Alda Pires, a UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Cooperative Extension specialist at the school, and Michele Jay-Russell, program manager with the Western Center for Food Safety , the workshop featured In-depth discussions, surveys and listening sessions on issues important to organic farmers. Topics included the use of raw manure and compost, rotational grazing practices and extension needs including technology innovations and other tools to help them comply with new food safety regulations.  

“We need to work together to leverage our efforts to prevent foodborne illnesses in the U.S.,” said co-PI Jay-Russell. “While one size won’t fit all, organic farmers want and need scientific-based tools to help them adapt to change and ensure food safety.”

Certified organic producers use animal-based soil amendments like manure and compost to improve soil fertility and quality. Currently the prevention of microbial contamination of crops has been based on waiting-period criteria of 90-120 days between application of raw manure and harvest.  However, according to the project’s PI Pires, the standards are based on little scientific information and require more research and field testing.

This national project is a collaboration with the Western Center for Food Safety that conducts related research, and the school’s Western Institute for Food Safety and Security.  Organic produce growers can assist the project by participating in this newly-launched survey on manure food safety .