The Packer’s National Editor Tom Karst chatted on Aug. 11 with Laura Phelps, president of the American Mushroom Institute, Washington, D.C. You can read the entire chat on the Fresh Talk blog.

9 a.m. Tom Karst: We have talked before about food safety. What are your latest thoughts about Food and Drug Administration rulemaking for produce safety? What do you think it will hold for mushrooms?

Q&A | Laura Phelps, American Mushroom Institute9:01 a.m. Laura Phelps: My biggest hope is that whatever FDA comes out with is practical and reasonable and doable, that they don’t go overboard. This is a process we learned with the mushroom growers — you need to start easy and build into a program, and I think that is what we have done in the mushroom industry. I feel fairly confident that whatever FDA comes out with we will be able to handle. But if they go overboard, I’m afraid there will be a backlash of people raising Cain about government intrusion and over-regulation that may set the process back. I hope it moves forward in increments and they do all they can to bring people along, and provide education and training tools. That’s in the plan, so I hope it unfolds as everybody is anticipating in the best case scenario.

9:03 a.m. Karst: Do you expect the final FDA proposed rule sometime next year, then?

9:04 a.m. Phelps: I would refer you to the egg safety rule, which took about eight years to get done. Deadlines are always moveable, even if the law says you (have to) have it done by a certain date. I hope (it won’t be delayed), but it could be. I think clarity would be good for everybody, instead of everybody making up rules on their own. We are still moving forward with our own commodity specific good agricultural practices program. There is huge acceptance in the industry for it, and I think it is a good indication of what might occur with the produce guidance the FDA would come up with. People just want to know what the rules are, and if you put parameters on it, then they can meet those. But having a sort of vague concept is difficult for growers. They want to grow things, they don’t want to figure out regulations.

9:05 a.m. Karst: How do you think the farm bill debate is shaping up?

9:06 a.m. Phelps: The industry will certainly have a challenge. Certainly there won’t be any more money. I certainly hope the Specialty Crop Block Grants will be off the table (for cuts).  I think those are really beneficial for the specialty crop industry. They have funded the vast majority of all our food safety work.