11:18 a.m. Gombas: My guess is that it will take at least a year. The reason I’m saying that is that the prototype was the tomato industry. When we worked with the tomato industry to create the tomato metrics, it was the same thing, to create a single audit for the tomato industry, to see if it would work. And it has. If it works for the tomato industry it should work for the rest of the produce industry.
11:19 a.m. Karst: As you look at the work on the harmonized standard, how does it relate to the work that the FDA is doing on its produce safety regulations?
11:20 a.m. Gombas: We have invited FDA to every single one of these meetings. They were present at every one of the tomato metrics meetings but once we started getting into GAP harmonization, that was when they started working on the produce rule so their day job started getting in the way. They have been copied on everything. The have asked for updates on the harmonized standard. When the final one came out, they asked immediately for a copy of the final harmonized standard so they can look at that in their deliberations. I’m sure when the produce rule finally comes out it will be consistent with the harmonized standard, but I expect it will look different.
11:23 a.m. Karst: So all that work will not be in vain, but a benefit to the industry?
11:23 a.m. Gombas: Oh yes, absolutely, FDA coming up with a regulation for commodity has never stopped third party audits. You look at juice, you look at seafood, you look at meat and poultry operations - they still go through audits for private sector purposes.
11:24 a.m. Karst: Looking ahead to the Washington Public Policy Conference, what are you looking forward to relating to your issues?
11:25 a.m. Gombas: On the food safety and regulatory side, we are going to be going up to FDA again and get a briefing on what they are working on. We are going to be talking about imports, the produce rule. People will be able ask questions. One of the things I’ve asked them to do is to (create) a top ten of issues that they are seeing on farms. They have investigators going to farms all the time. What the issues that they are perceiving as far as the farms? I’ve asked them to do that. The other thing that is really cool about this years is in the past, visitors had a choice. They could go to FDA or they could go to the Hill but they couldn’t do both because they were at the same time. Now, we have scheduled it so you can do both. Not only can you do both, but if you don’t want to go to FDA, you can also go to FDA or EPA and we’ve never been to those agencies before.