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Steering Committee responds to The Pundit

Steering Committee

On September 21, The Perishable Pundit published a lengthy article about the Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops. The Steering Committee sent the following response: 

Dear Pundit,

Thank you for the extensive coverage on sustainability this week. Perhaps it’s a topic that some have perceived as not critical in this economic climate, but it remains an issue on which many of us, both inside and outside the industry, remain focused. 

One only needs to reflect back on the food safety process to see why the Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops (SISC) remains relevant and necessary. Today, the most common complaint amongst growers/suppliers is not the cost of food safety, but the multiplicity of audits, dueling standards, and added costs. Over this last year United Fresh has held multiple meetings on “GAP harmonization”, and has made some progress in that area. This effort may have proven unnecessary had two things been in place: sound science to support a common standard, and an effort by the grower-based organizations to bring all stakeholders – buyers, sellers, growers, regulators, NGO’s -  together to develop common food safety practices in advance of the proliferation that now overwhelms the industry.

SISC was founded on three simple principles:

1) A focus on performance metrics and not prescriptive practices. Where possible, we correlate performance metrics with practice options so that growers and supply chain partners can continuously innovate in ways that achieve profitability, environmental stewardship, and social responsibility outcomes.

2) An aim to reduce compliance costs for supply chain participants by developing a broadly accepted set of metrics on how sustainability is to be measured. Simply stated – develop the yardstick.

3) An open and transparent process that includes the engagement of all interested participants.

While we know the execution of these simple principles is very challenging and critics assert we fall short in some areas, they continue to be our driving principles. Today, SISC has over 100 growers in 13 states pilot testing 8 performance metrics on 18 different crops to determine if they are practical, meaningful to their customers, and useful for identifying opportunities for internal cost-efficiencies. SISC remains the industry’s best hope for a multi-stakeholder, pre-competitive, marketplace solution for measuring and improving specialty crop sustainability.

Jeff Dlott, SureHarvest

Hank Giclas, Western Growers Association

Hal Hamilton, Sustainable Food Lab

Jonathan Kaplan, National Resources Defense Council

Kathy Means, Produce Marketing Association

Tim York, Markon Cooperative