Alliance prepares the way for FDA produce safety rule

A public-private organization will provide produce growers and packagers with fundamental, on-farm food safety knowledge in advance of a proposed produce safety regulation, according to FDA, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) and Cornell University.

According to an FDA news release, the new Produce Safety Alliance is a three-year, $1.15 million partnership funded by FDA and USDA. It will be housed at Cornell University through a grant from AMS. Cornell’s national Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) program has been a leader in the development of materials on GAPs and in its dissemination of food safety knowledge to the agricultural community.

In 2011, FDA is expected to issue a proposed rule on the safe production, harvesting and packing of produce. The alliance’s goal is to give produce growers and packers training, educational materials and opportunities to learn about best food safety practices and future regulatory requirements, according to FDA.

“As we traveled around the country listening to growers and packers and soliciting their comments even before we propose a produce safety rule, we have committed ourselves to just this kind of collaborative effort,” said Michael R. Taylor, FDA deputy commissioner for foods. “We also know that small growers and packers are especially interested in the kind of hands-on training and support envisioned by the alliance.”

The alliance will have representatives from the Association of Food and Drug Officials, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, land-grant universities, growers and shippers, produce trade organizations and USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service joining FDA, AMS and Cornell officials on the alliance’s steering committee.

“In our 12-plus years of working with growers and packers on how best to implement GAPs, we have seen how much they want to do the right thing and meet the industry demand for food safety,” said Betsy Bihn, coordinator of Cornell University’s National GAPs Program. “What growers and packers want is science-based information they can use in the fields and the packing houses to improve food safety practices in practical ways. Our goal is to meet that need today and down the road as FDA moves forward in its rulemaking process.”

Voluntary and contractual produce safety standards already are in use by many producers nationwide, and the alliance will take those into account in developing its materials. The work of the alliance also will be based on the co-management approach of integrating food safety and environmental protection efforts, according to FDA.

“Whether they are large, small or somewhere in between, what our farmers want and need is hands-on practical information, and we see the Produce Safety Alliance as a vital way to develop that information and deliver it in a timely and effective way,” said Steve Troxler, North Carolina’s commissioner of agriculture.

Originally posted Friday, Nov. 12, 2010