Food Safety: USDA NOP Update, Wild Crops (3 of 6)

Wild crop harvesting poses an interesting topic of discussion regarding food safety and organic certification. The draft guidance document specifically states that "If the operation is re-planting, seeding, irrigating, fertilizing or applying any crop management techniques other than harvesting, they should not be considered eligible for wild-crop certification and should be considered a crop producer instead."

What a phenomenal idea to encourage a brighter diversity of plant material into consumers' lives! Many items perfectly delectable are literally ripe for the picking; if organic certification can make more clear the standards by which they can be harvested, the possibly more people that don't have the desire to forage can also enjoy some of the health benefits of wild foods.

Comments on the draft guidance are welcomed and required to be submitted by December 13, 2010. Please see the Series Introduction for details. The draft provides rather clear rules. In order to collect and sell wild foods under the certified organic seal, a harvesting company must provide:

  1. An inspection of the harvest area, prior to harvest, to ensure that crops are being sustainably harvested.
  2. Verification that the species of plants being harvested are the intended species and that these are the same species specified on the application and in the OSP.
  3. An interview with the wild harvester and the wild crop collectors to verify that practices employed during harvest correspond to those documented in the OSP.
  4. A review of all written harvest procedures to verify that they are being implemented and that all collectors have been adequately trained.
  5. An inspection of handlers within the chain of custody of the wild harvest crop.

Further, the certification requires that "A wild crop that is intended to be sold, labeled, or represented as organic must be harvested from a designated area that has had no prohibited substance, as set forth in §205.105, applied to it for a period
of 3 years immediately preceding the harvest
of the wild crop." This includes both terrestrial and aquatic regions. The company must also provide a map disclosing boundaries of collection including possible contaminant sites as well as a descriptive explanation of the type of region from which the product has been harvested (ex: woodland, steppe, beach, etc.).

Best of all is the last rule in the paper, "wild crop must be harvested in a manner that ensures that such harvesting or gathering will not be destructive to the environment and will sustain the growth and production of the wild crop."

The only concern that immediately comes to mind is if the area which is intended to be harvested happens to intersect as an area that is already foraged for typical or non-commercial use. If the land is not private, is it still fair game to forage? And what about mushroom hunters who sell to local restaurants?

Foragers are careful about divulging their sources for a reason. For now, regulating the commercial use harvesting wild foods is probably a step in the right direction, if for no other reason that being able to trust the certified organic label as a food safety issue while offering a greater variety of plant sources into the diet.