An organization that puts the spotlight on the value of farmworkers in helping to keep this country’s fresh produce safe and healthy has moved another step forward in benefiting growers, retailers, farmworkers and consumers.

Incubating since 2009, the Equitable Food Initiative (EFI), which began certifying produce farms in 2014, brings growers, farmworkers, farmworker organizations and retailers together to improve working conditions, food safety practices and pesticide management in the produce industry. 

Earlier this month, EFI announced that its food safety certification has been recognized by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI). As such, it is the only fresh-produce certification that satisfies multiple retail requirements in a single audit.

Peter O’Driscoll, executive director of EFI, said that earning GFSI recognition for its certification program is “an essential step in creating a one-stop shop that eliminates the redundancy of multiple audits.

“EFI has aimed to create a system that raises audit standards while reducing the overall burden of time and cost for growers,” he said. “Our ongoing partnership with industry stakeholders, and now with GFSI, is bringing this vision to fruition.”

“The benefit of this to growers is awesome,” said EFI spokesperson LeAnne R. Ruzzamenti, pointing out that major retailers already accept EFI as a third-party certification for both responsible sourcing and pollinator health/integrated pest management. The addition of a GFSI-recognized food-safety certification streamlines the audit process even further.

Amalia Zimmerman-Lommel, director of corporate social responsibility at Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce/Good Farms, was quick to praise the value of a comprehensive audit.

“The demand of multiple standards from different retail buyers quickly creates audit fatigue and is costly and time-consuming for farming operations,” she said. “EFI certification already satisfies social responsibility requirements for the majority of our retail buyers, and the addition of a GFSI-recognized food-safety audit will reduce our number of audits even further.”

She also pointed out that EFI certification has already helped lighten a lot of that burden by reducing dedicated staff time by more than 50 percent as it relates to audit work.

Thomas Gremillion, director of food policy at the Consumer Federation of America, said that in developing a single audit that drives meaningful benefits for growers, farmworkers, retailers and consumers alike, “EFI is poised more than ever to transform agriculture and improve the lives of farmworkers.”

“EFI brings all the pieces together into a package and replaces three different audits. It’s a holistic approach that makes your company better,” said Margaret Stewart, senior compliance manager, Rogue River Farms.

About EFI
EFI provides training and EFI certification, which, in turn, promotes the interests of workers, growers, retailers, food-service companies and consumers. Some refer to it as a “win, win, win” solution. At the heart of all of this is the belief that collaboration among all of the partners — from field to market — will result in increased assurances that produce is harvested as safely as possible in conditions that respect the dignity of the workers. 

“Building a safer and more equitable food system,” is how EFI puts it.

With EFI certification, farms can use the green “Responsibly Grown, Farmworker Assured” label on their packages. Among the farms receiving EFI certification are Andrew & Williamson’s Crisalida Berry Farm in Ventura County, CA., Houweling’s Tomatoes, Windset Farms, Keystone Fruit Marketing, Borton Fruit, Naturesweet Tomatoes, and Alpine Fresh.

Retail collaborators include Costco Wholesale and Whole Foods Market.

“Safe and wholesome produce begins with dedicated training of, respect for, and protection of farmworkers,” said Costco’s vice president for general administration Arthur D. Jackson Jr. in a news release about the chain’s agreement with EFI. He also said that EFI “creates value and improves working conditions and corporate culture at the same time.”

An independent non-profit, EFI receives funding support from The Atlantic Philanthropies, Broad Reach Fund, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Rosenberg Foundation, Cedar Tree Foundation, Oxfam America and The Walt Disney Co.

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