Scope of Good Agricultural Practices

There is little or no legislation that refers to “safe food.” However, there is Legislation that prohibits selling “unsafe food.” This would include the sale of any unsafe food being sold from a farm.

Below is an overview of the legislation that requires that food meet certain safety standards. There are no specific standards in legislation for every type of commodity that may be produced on farm.

The federal Food and Drugs Act (Canada) R.S., c. F-27, s. 4 states: “No person shall sell an article of food that (a) has in or on it any poisonous or harmful substance; (b) is unfit for human consumption; (c) consists in whole or in part of any filthy, putrid, disgusting, rotten, decomposed or diseased animal or vegetable substance; (d) is adulterated; or (e) was manufactured, prepared, preserved, packaged or stored under unsanitary conditions.”

The Milk Industry Act, RSBC 1996, s 6 (1) A person must not sell, offer for sale or supply any dairy product unless the dairy product has been pasteurized in accordance with this Act and the regulations.

Scope of Document

In scope – what this document covers

Agricultural food products for human consumption

This document describes generic on-farm food safety practices that apply to any farm operation producing plant and animal products for human consumption that are generally eaten in a raw, unprocessed state.

It specifically applies to the following raw, unprocessed food products: fresh fruit and nuts, vegetables and grains, eggs, milk and honey. It also applies to growing and harvesting of horticultural and field crops, including mushrooms. Raw food items that may have a waxed coating applied to enhance storage and transport (such as for turnips) or other minimal treatment prior to leaving the farm are also included.

This document also includes good practices that relate to the production and raising of livestock and poultry on-farm for meat, milk or eggs in so far as these practices contribute to the safety of the food and they are on-farm practices.

For the purposes of this document:

  • Livestock includes beef and dairy cattle, goats, horses, poultry, rabbits, sheep, swine and game animals raised on the farm.

  • Poultry means chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese and game birds raised on the farm.
  • Milk means milk from cows, goats or sheep.

The term agricultural food products will be used throughout this report to include all of the above.

This document also includes good practices for food safety purposes only governing the use of agricultural inputs, identification and labelling, storage, loading and transportation of the plant or animal product on the farm and to the farm gate. It does not detail practices that apply to the animal after it leaves the farm.

Agricultural food products that leave the farm to be processed and returned to the farm to be sold, such as custom meat, are not dealt with in this document. Nor does the document deal in detail with grading or quality, packaging, advertising, marketing, displaying, offering for sale, selling by any means, distribution or disposal of the agricultural food product itself. (See following.)

Size and type of farm – all farms included

Although the definition of farm varies under different legislation in British Columbia and Canada, these on-farm food safety practices are applicable to any producer of any size, whether formally registered as a farm or not, that is producing any of the above agricultural food products.

These practices are also applicable whether the food is produced for sale to consumers, wholesalers or other distributors of agricultural food products or simply for the personal consumption of the farmer and his or her immediate family.

Voluntary and mandatory requirements

The Good Agricultural Practices listed in these materials include best practices that are both required by regulations and those that are recommended, but not required by law. Every effort has been made to list the relevant law or regulation that applies to a required practice. There are many best practice materials relating to these matters, many of which are voluntary, and they have not all been included in these materials. The regulation of food safety issues on-farm and in the market place is continuing to evolve, and producers are encouraged to monitor these developments.

The role of inspectors and regulatory enforcement powers and procedures

Many laws and regulations that pertain to on-farm food safety matters outline the powers and duties of inspectors and other regulatory officials under that specific law. These are not described for each law or regulation that is noted in this document.

As a general rule, inspectors can come on-farm and perform inspections to determine compliance with regulations. Inspectors and officials are not usually allowed into the residence without a warrant or the consent of the occupier. Farmers are required to cooperate and may also be asked to produce records or other things pertaining to the matter or provide specimens or samples for testing. Farmers may also be ordered to dispose of something or perform another task listed in the legislation. Farmers are encouraged to check the relevant law in question to obtain further information on its enforcement framework, the powers and duties of inspectors, the obligations on farmers and other matters relating to procedures and penalties.

Licences, quotas and marketing boards

A number of laws detail the requirement for licences and the process by which these are granted or taken away. This document does not discuss these issues in any detail, and farmers are encouraged to check the legislation regarding these types of requirements.

A number of commodities are covered by legislation that creates marketing boards that have the power to issue licences, establish quotas, collect fees and create conditions on licences that may be relevant to food safety, such as requirements to register the name and address of the producer or to follow certain procedures. This document does not discuss these issues, and farmers are encouraged to check the legislation for their commodity to determine the power and authority of the marketing board for their commodity and to contact them to determine if they have established requirements in addition to what is in the legislation referred to in this document. (See below.)

Out of scope – what this document does not cover

Value-added products involving any processing on or off-farm

For the purposes of this document, minimally processed ready-to-eat vegetables are not included. This means raw vegetables that have been peeled, sliced, chopped or shredded prior to being packaged for sale.

Similarly, items that require any processing, such as maple syrup, cider, cheese and dairy products (from cows, sheep or goats), are not included in this document.

Farmers who undertake to produce processed items for sale at farmgate or other retail or wholesale locations should refer to the following materials for food-safety advice and good manufacturing practices (GMPs):

A step by step BC HACCP Plan Manual For HACCP-related requests, call BC Ministry of Agriculture and Lands, to talk to a Food Safety Specialist at 1-888-221-7141

Contact local health units, which regulate food premises, and local health inspectors to determine other local requirements.

Sales by the farmer at farmgate, farmers’ markets or other venues on or off-farm

This document does not cover safe food handling practices for the retail sales of food products to the public by farmers. Local health units provide training on safe handling practices for food handlers that farmers are welcome to attend. Local health units can also advise on what standards are required for the safe storage and selling of food off of the farm.

Additional requirements by commodity groups that have developed their own on‑farm food safety programs or other quality assurance programs

Several national and provincial commodity bodies have developed their own on‑farm food safety and quality assurance programs that are being implemented by federal and provincial commodity groups. A number of these are now mandatory for producers in certain regulated commodities through conditions in licensing. There are also internationally recognized food safety standards, such as ISO certification. Farmers in British Columbia are encouraged to check with their own commodity group for both livestock and horticultural produce to determine if any additional requirements apply.

Additional requirements by vendors, retailers and processors

A number of retailers and processors are now requiring additional food-safety and other standards, with accompanying records to prove that these have been adhered to by farmers. These may differ for operations at the international, national and provincial level. Farmers in British Columbia are encouraged to check with their buyer for specified requirements.

Animal welfare, health, handling and transport

A number of Codes of Practice and regulations have been developed that pertain to animal welfare, health, handling and transport at both the federal and provincial level. To the extent that these relate to on-farm food safety, they are noted in this document. For example, the reduction of stress for animals just prior to slaughter for food, minimizing animal disease issues that have implications for human health, and ensuring traceability are all food safety issues. However, there are a wide range of standards and recommended practices that are developing in this area in response to demands of large retailers, processors, consumers, government and various non-government groups. Much of this is outside the scope of this document. Farmers are encouraged to check with the following for more information:

Animal handling and transport standards for animals after they leave the farmgate are not dealt with in this document, nor are any requirements for interprovincial or import or export.

Animals and animal products not included in this document

Fur-bearing animals that are not raised for human consumption are not included in this document, nor are game animals, wildlife that have been killed by hunting as defined in the Wildlife Act, RSBC 1996, including animals that have been killed by farmers on their farm in accordance with the Act.

Fish, including fish raised in aquaculture, are not included in this document. See the Fish Inspection Act, RSBC 1996 s. 9(3), which prohibits for sale any fish intended for human consumption that is tainted, decomposed or unwholesome. The Regulation lists the specifications for sanitary facilities and handling, and the requirement for protection from contamination and weather during loading, unloading and transportation of fish.

Animal products such as semen, embryos, urine, hormones, hair or bristles, hide or skin, antlers, bones, organs that are not generally eaten (such as gall bladders) and raw wool are not included.

Donkeys, dogs, cats, amphibians and reptiles are not included.

Plants and plant products not included in this document

Wild rice and other wild harvested items (such as ferns, wild mushrooms, wild nuts or berries) from natural areas, including areas that may be on-farm, are not included in this document.

Microorganisms and microbial products are not included.

Dried herbs, leaves, flowers, roots, teas or any plant products that have been dried or processed are not included.

Vinegars, tinctures or any liquid processing of plant products are not included.

Novel foods or foods that have been produced with genetic modification are not included in this document

Transgenic animals and plants and food safety issues related to their production and distribution are not discussed in this paper. See the following federal laws: the  Food and Drugs Act, regarding novel foods; the Feeds Act regarding novel livestock feeds; the Seeds Act regarding plants and novel traits; the Fertilizer Act regarding biofertilizers; and the Health of Animals Act regarding veterinary biologics.

Consumer labelling

Labelling of products and identifying producers are referenced in this document as they relate to traceability and food recall. However, other requirements related to truth in advertising, product claims or prohibitions with respect to labelling or marketing practices are not included in this document. See legislation such as the Sales of Goods Act and related laws dealing with partnership and corporations that describe requirements related to sales to consumers.

Water quality and the environment

Water quality and environmental protections as they relate to on-farm food safety are noted in this document. However, there are numerous laws and regulations relating to farm production practices and source water and environmental protection, and farmers are encouraged to check with the Ministry of Environment for more information.

Health and safety of farm workers

The Workers Compensation Act, RSBC 1996 applies to employees on farms. To the extent that the health of farm workers relates to the safe handling and production of food, it is dealt with in this document. However, general occupational health and safety issues are not covered, and farmers are encouraged to contact the Ministry of Labour for more information.