Western Growers Association, Irvine, Calif., has been awarded more than $122,000 to look into the impact of food safety regulation on wildlife and the environment.

The grant, awarded in November, will go to the association’s science and technology department, and will look into environmental issues arising from growers following stricter food safety rules in California, according to the association.

The aim of the project, called “Determining the Potential Impact of Vegetable Food Safety Regulations on Wildlife and the Environment,” according to an association bulletin, is to address “concerns by determining which preventative food safety practices pose problems and provide solutions based on input from both food safety and environmental resource experts.”

“Ultimately, we’d like to provide guidelines on a whole host of diverse settings from the Salinas Valley to Arizona and beyond,” said Hank Giclas, vice president for strategic planning, science and technology for Western Growers.

Much of the project will focus on California’s central coast region, including growing areas of the Salinas Valley and Santa Maria.

Giclas said he will be working with partners from Intertox, Inc., a Seattle-based scientific consulting and research firm that focuses on solutions to enhance public health and manage environmental risk issues, according to the association.

The results of this project are expected to benefit California specialty crop growers by clarifying food safety guidelines for leafy greens and reducing costs from food safety guidelines that are determined to be unnecessary or overprotective, according to the association.

It’s also meant to help build on the limited science produce buyers rely on when requiring different food safety requirements for their growers, with little proof that practices such as buffer zones or trapping actually improve the safety of produce.

Giclas said once the project starts in 2010, it could involve looking at wildlife animals considered high risk under good agriculture practices, and looking at what growers do to reduce animal intrusion in their fields and monitor for the presence of wildlife.

Giclas said that the work will help determine if there’s a better way for growers to follow programs like the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement without causing environmental problems through practices like vegetation removal.

“The focus of the study is too look at practices that are there and see if they truly present conflicts to the environment and conservation goals, when (growers) do it, and if there’s a better way to go about doing that,” Giclas said.

The funding is part of a specialty crop block grant awarded to Western Growers.