As we watched news coverage of the announcement of the Food and Drug Administration’s publishing of the proposed produce food safety rule, two commonalities stood out.
The first was if Congress was going to provide adequate funding for implementation of this law.
The second was the lengthy amount of time it will take to phase in law compliance.
The coverage largely ignored the fact that while the Obama administration was finalizing the specific rules under the Food Safety Modernization Act, the U.S. produce industry has continued to move forward with efforts to protect public health by improving food safety.
These efforts include programs already in place today that require government oversight of food safety compliance.
Further, funding of these government oversight programs and inspections are provided by industry itself.
In California, leafy greens, tomatoes and cantaloupe producers implemented programs that require government inspectors to audit farms and packing facilities to ensure compliance with science-based food safety practices.
Producers of Florida tomatoes and Arizona leafy greens have implemented similar programs. Leafy greens and tomato producers began these mandatory programs about five years ago.
The California cantaloupe program was launched in 2012 and complements a government inspection program for quality and traceability that has been in place for decades.
Producers of these commodities are already well-accustomed to operating under a system where food is produced with mandatory government oversight to provide a safe product for consumers.
Simply put, this public/private partnership allows the government to handle the inspections and ensure compliance with food safety standards while the industry itself pays for mandatory government inspections.
It is a unique model that works quite well, especially in these times of state and federal government budget constraints.
Under the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, mandatory government audits are conducted for each LGMA member five times per year.
To achieve certification, members are required to achieve 100% compliance with all required food safety practices.
The food safety practices that must be followed are science-based, continually reviewed and tested through an open and transparent process with input from food safety scientists, industry members and regulators.
The program requires members to take corrective actions for any citation issued and government auditors must re-inspect to ensure practices are now in compliance.
Again, the LGMA, along with programs operated under the Florida Tomato Exchange, Arizona Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, California Cantaloupe Advisory Board and the California Tomato Farmers cooperative are in place to protect consumers now — not months or years from now.
As we all begin the process of reviewing the specifics of the FDA’s proposed food safety rule, we’re confident programs like these are already providing a mechanism for implementation of the requirements under FSMA. We are also hopeful that FSMA will promote a unification of standards so that each commodity can operate under a level playing field and the practice of multiple and duplicative audits will cease.
But, of the highest importance is that industry, government, consumer groups and food safety experts all work together to successfully increase the safety of our foods for our consumers and our families.
This goal is precisely why these private/public partnership programs with government oversight were created years ago.
Through their creation, a new culture of “food safety first” has permeated throughout our leafy greens, cantaloupe and tomato farms and fields.
Our farmers don’t want any more outbreaks and the victims of previous outbreaks deserve to know that we are all committed — government and industry alike — to doing better.
Scott Horsfall is chief executive officer of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement. Reggie Brown, executive vice president of the Florida Tomato Exchange; Steve Patricio, chairman of the California Cantaloupe Advisory Board; and Chris Zanobini, executive director of California Tomato Farmers, contributed to this column.
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