Coral BeachTwo empty chairs at this food safety panel discussion at PMA’s Fresh Summit were reserved for Food and Drug Administration officials, but the government shutdown kept them from attending, even though federal workers were back to work. Participating in the panel were PMA’s chief science and technology officer Bob Whitaker (left), PMA’s vice president of food safety and technology Jim Gorny (center), and Tom O’Brien, a Washington D.C. attorney who works with PMA and has extensive experience with the Food Safety Modernization Act.NEW ORLEANS — It’s just a money grab. It’s because of problems with foreign imports. It’s big government and big business in cahoots. Isn’t it time to make consumers take some responsibility? It’s impossible to have food safety without a written plan.
Such questions and comments spurred the Produce Marketing Association to include a workshop at Fresh Summit this year to dispel myths and calm the industry concern about the Food Safety Modernization Act.
“We’ve been collecting questions and want to answer some of the most common ones today,” said Bob Whitaker, workshop moderator and PMA’s chief science and technology officer.
“Today we want to stick to the science behind the proposed rule and dispel some misinformation.”
The two other panelists on stage were former employees of the FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture and offered insight into how the act came about and how the rulemaking process works.
Panelist Jim Gorny, PMA’s vice president of food safety and technology, was senior adviser for produce safety at the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition before joining the PMA this summer.
Panelist Tom O’Brien, a Washington D.C. attorney and PMA’s Washington representative, was associate administrator and chief of staff at the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.
The first misconception the panel cleared up for Fresh Summit attendees concerned whether the FDA’s produce safety rule is in effect.
Whitaker said he has heard many in the industry say the rule is written and people must comply now.
“False,” he said.
The produce rule is not yet final. The FDA will continue to accept comments on it through Nov. 15.
The panelists encouraged attendees to file comments if they have not yet done so. The agency is under court order to have the rule in place in mid-2015.
“The proposed rule and the public comment period are key to our democratic process,” Gorny said.
Gorny and Whitaker pointed to the irrigation water requirements in the proposed rule as an example of how the comment process is already having an impact on FDA officials.
Taylor and Assar spent weeks this summer visiting different growing regions and looking at operations for different commodities in response to industry objections.
Taylor has said the water regulations will definitely be revised, but he has not provided specifics.
Other myths and misconceptions discussed by the panel ranged from possible import fees to when the industry will have to comply with the proposed produce safety rule.