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    FRESH PRODUCE TRENDS:<br />United Fresh Helps Food Safety Get Its Act Together

    On the heels of the passage of long-awaited groundbreaking food safety legislation in the House of Representatives, United Fresh Produce Association president Tom Stenzel -- who, along with his colleagues and peers toiled mightily to drive improvements and help ensure representation of produce industry priorities -- shared observations about the bipartisan congressional action that the trade group has long supported with its members.

    On the heels of the passage of long-awaited groundbreaking food safety legislation in the House of Representatives, United Fresh Produce Association president Tom Stenzel -- who, along with his colleagues and peers toiled mightily to drive improvements and help ensure representation of produce industry priorities -- shared observations about the bipartisan congressional action that the trade group has long supported with its members.

    Commending both Democrats and Republicans for working together to make the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 a better bill that will spearhead comprehensive food safety reform,” Stenzel said United was pleased that a number of produce industry priorities were included in the original draft of the bill after identifying “several problem areas that needed to be addressed. We have worked closely with committee members on both sides of the aisle, as well as congressional leaders outside of the committee, to improve this important measure.” As a result, several significant enhancements have been incorporated in the bill, including:

    A strengthening of its commodity-specific approach to produce
    An assurance that FDA will work with USDA, state departments of agriculture and other agencies in implementing all produce provisions
    A mandate for FDA to work with industry on traceability solutions across all foods without prescriptive dictates that could have set back work on the current Produce Traceability Initiative
    An exemption for produce from any duplicative requirements for country-of-origin labeling
    An enhancement of the ability of fresh processors to develop individual HACCP programs without rigid one-size-fits-all mandates
    An assurance of the equal treatment of imported and domestic produce in food safety standards
    An assurance of tighter control of potential FDA geographic quarantine authority, as well as the requirement of an imminent threat to take such action
    A cap on registration fees for both facilities and importers

    While Stenzel said the Washington-based trade group is pleased with the bill’s “important improvements,” there are still several important issues that will need to be tackled moving forward with the Senate as it begins its work on food safety legislation later this year, some of which include:

    Targeting of resources generated by registration fees to specific FDA activities in support of food safety, not bureaucracy
    Eliminating unwarranted mandates for finished product testing that would do nothing to increase food safety
    The creation of an expedited entry program for imports that can demonstrate ongoing compliance with safety standards
    Creating better organizational structure for food safety outbreak management structure in the federal government, including specific inclusion of industry expertise to rapidly determine the source of outbreaks, remove at-risk product, and clear all concerns to allow for marketplace recovery

    “Over the past two years, we’ve worked closely with Senate leaders on their own food safety legislation, and now it’s time to put together a final Senate bill based on a sound, science-based approach,” said Stenzel, eyeing a goal that “Congress finally passes a sound bill that will be signed by President Obama before the end of this year.”

    All of which goes without saying that food safety legislation will be a primary focus at United Fresh’s upcoming Washington Public Policy Conference in September. For more information on the conference, and/or the Food Safety Enhancement Act, visit Unitedfresh.org or call Robert Guenther, SVP of public policy, at 202-303-3409.

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