Dispelling rural myths of food safety regulations

01/17/2013 04:33:00 PM
Tom Karst

National Editor Tom KarstDispelling the “rural myths” about the Food and Drug Administration’s proposed produce safety rules is going to be a major job function for Jim Gorny in the months ahead.

I had a chance to interview Gorny, senior adviser for produce safety for the Food and Drug Administration, on Dec. 11 about the newly released produce safety and preventive control rules.

So far, the FDA is making all the right moves. Participation by FDA officials in various web seminars and other expected outreach efforts intend to make the proposed rules as comprehensible as possible to the trade and to consumers.

Of course, media reports, including The Packer’s own reporting, have gravitated to the flashier parts of the proposed rule, details about the anticipated costs and the numbers of exempted farms.

It is easy for the conversation to be diverted, as this reader comment on a story in The Packer talking about the need for universal food safety practices by all sizes of farms. He wrote:

“Everything that I have heard or read is aimed at the grower, packer and processor, but what about the consumer? I was in Wall Mart the other day and watched at least 20 people in a short time pick up fruit and produce and set it back down and then someone else would pick it up and take it home. Where was those peoples hands before they picked up the produce and possible were they sick or healthy? I think we are spending billions of dollars trying to over regulate an industry that wasn’t broke making it impossible for the smaller operations to stay in business. We are regulating this country right into bankruptcy. All These regulations cost you the consumer in the end. Whether that be in the form of higher taxes or higher prices for the things you buy. We are regulating the affordability of the middle class to live in this great place we call the USA. We are going to have the safest and cleanest country in the world but we won’t be able to afford to live here! There has to be a happy medium.”

 

That may be the heart-felt conviction and realistic appraisal of many growers, that the FDA is trying to “fix a system that isn’t broke.” And what about consumers, for Pete’s sake.

Others are drawn to the debate whether the proposed produce safety regulations give a break to domestic farms versus foreign farms, or vice versa.

Gorny said the FDA has written a proposed rule that is remarkably flexible, he said. Building in flexibility for water regulation, for use of manures and soil amendments, for control of wildlife incursion, is one reason the produce safety regulation is hundreds of pages long, Gorny told me.

As much flexibility is in the proposed regulations, Gorny encouraged the industry consider new approaches if they disagree with the FDA. It doesn’t help, he pointed out, for farmers to merely complain about being included.

Now is the time for industry to suggest science-based alternatives if they don’t like what they see, as long as the alternatives also can contribute to safer produce.

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 A quick word about a hot discussion topic at the Fresh Produce Industry Discussion Group. The topic of “booth babes” was raised at the Produce Marketing Association’s convention and I started a poll and discussion thread about the idea of “banning” booth babes at industry trade shows.

The topic has lately reemerged in the wake a controversial exhibitor at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Unrelated to produce, yes, but the topless female models clothed only with body paint reignited the discussion. With 80 votes and 84 comments, the back and forth over this edgy topic has struck a chord. All who have contributed to the discussion have made their valid points, from “sex sells, get over it” to criticisms of company (and trade show?) cultures that encourage the objectification of women. The latest comment in the discussion makes the point that the root of the problem may be that most buyers are male. If the industry makes moves to hire more women, she said, then marketing initiatives would not cater to men.

That sounds like a “last word” to this debate. But, considering 84 comments so far (and counting), probably not.



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