GROTON, Conn. — Concerns over the Food Safety Modernization Act dominated discussion at a Sept. 17-18 conference co-sponsored by the Eastern Produce Council and the New England Produce Council.
This was the first conference staged by the councils, and it drew about 130 attendees, reported Paul Kneeland, president of the Short Hills, N.J.-based Eastern Produce Council and vice president of produce and floral for the Parsippany, N.J.-based Kings Super Markets.
Bob McGowan, president of the Burlington, Mass.-based New England Produce Council and a partner in Wellesley, Mass.-based Northeast Produce Sales LLC, concurred on the attendance and said it was a great turnout.
The first salvos in the food safety act discussion came the afternoon of Sept. 17 when Tom Stenzel, president and chief executive officer of Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association, outlined a list of federal issues important to the produce industry.
With immigration reform and nutrition program funding in the farm bill, the produce industry has an unprecedented burden of issues facing it on Capitol Hill. Stenzel then moderated a discussion between the audience and two panel members, Doug Fisher, New Jersey secretary of agriculture, and Steven Reviczky, Connecticut agriculture commissioner.
The Food and Drug Administration has extended the comment period of the proposed rules for implementing the food safety act. Besides the exemption for smaller operations, Stenzel listed other concerns with the proposed rules, including water standards arbitrarily applied to commodities across the board; applying the same rules to packinghouses and warehouses as food manufacturing facilities; and rules that are too stringent for verifying that foreign suppliers are properly implementing the law.
After describing what he called an “agricultural renaissance” in his state with more smaller produce-growing operations, Reviczky said eliminating the smaller operation exemption could stifle the growth.
“Just the record keeping alone — I don’t know how a family farm could possible keep track of everything they are supposed to keep track of,” Reviczky said. Fisher echoed those concerns. Both said the rules could force growers to consolidate to deal with the burden.
The debate resumed the morning of Sept. 18, when Bob Whitaker, chief scientific officer for Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association, told the audience “we have a lot of people with their head in the sand” as far as food safety is concerned.