The first of two phases for launching a new social practice standard will soon be released as part of the New Zealand Good Agricultural Practice (NZGAP) quality assurance programme for certified horticulture businesses.

Growers and other certified businesses who have the NZGAP (under Horticulture New Zealand) operate under the good agricultural practice standards for food safety as well as traceability, as required by the domestic and export markets.

NZGAP quality system co-ordinator Katrina O'Connor said the new add-on standard would be included as part of the programme and indicated to domestic and overseas markets New Zealand producers were meeting their legislative requirements for employment, wages, worker welfare and immigration.

She said the new standards were carefully developed to be accepted by industry, credible locally, attainable and globally recognised.

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''We want growers to be able to answer the questions, so it is developed in a way that is user-friendly without diluting the requirements,'' she said.

''NZGAP has been working with the industry, markets, wholesalers, retailers and regulators to develop the social practice standard and will provide guidance to support growers to understand what changes may be required.

''The NZGAP programme has a base standard that focuses on food safety, and the certification is also available for [horticultural] contractors, wholesalers and transport operators.

''The social practice standard is voluntary at this stage, and there will be a cost, but that is still under review.''

Phase one - the self-assessment - will be launched shortly. Growers will be encouraged to fill in a questionnaire online and results will be submitted to NZGAP.

In phase two, the standard will be audited as part of the grower's scheduled NZGAP assurance programme audits.

Horticulture New Zealand chief executive Mike Chapman said social responsibility was part of the organisation's mandate.

''There is a global trend for assurance programmes like NZGAP.''

He said they were also working on an environmental standard, which would be added to the programme later this year.

It would ensure growers were compliant with the regulatory requirements from the regional councils.

''We are progressing regional council by regional council,'' he said.

NZGAP staff had been working with the Ministry for Primary Industries on the new Food Safety Act.

Those who belong to the NZGAP or GLOBALGAP - New Zealand's overseas version for exporters - are able to meet the Act's requirements through the existing certification scheme.

''They will be covered and will save having multiple auditors coming up the driveway,'' Chapman said.

''We want to offer the best possible compliance to growers and be assured of having certification combined.

''Having that extra level of assurance is positive and make [our products] more saleable.

''The vast majority of growers are covered and it is a really positive step forward.''

Growers and other food businesses have until February 28 to register under the Ministry for Primary Industry's Food Act regulations or they will be considered to be operating illegally.