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A representative from Publix Super Markets testifying on behalf of the Food Marketing Institute, along with the head of the United Fresh Produce Association (United Fresh), told a Senate Committee Thursday that high-profile food safety outbreaks revealed weaknesses in the existing food safety system and highlighted the need to update the laws and culture necessary to adequately protect the U.S. food supply.
“The most important goal of food retailers and wholesalers is to ensure that the food we sell is as safe as possible and of the highest quality possible,” said Michael Roberson, director of corporate quality assurance at Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix, while speaking before on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Senate Committee food safety system reform hearing.
“Supermarkets have many prevention programs in place to protect our customers, including employee food safety training, extensive sanitation programs, food safety management systems, consumer education programs and other programs that involve working closely with our suppliers, especially those beyond our borders,” said Roberson, adding that many of the proposals in S. 510 -- the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act – “are consistent with our approach to improving the food safety system by emphasizing the need to have preventative measures as the foundation on which any food safety system should be built. Our industry also understands that it is vital to ensure that the FDA has the necessary authority, credibility and resources to meet the challenges of today’s global marketplace.”
Tom Stenzel, president and CEO of Washington-based United Fresh, also reiterated the produce industry’s support for strong commodity-specific food safety standards. “The produce industry welcomes the opportunity to provide input on this extremely important legislation,” said Stenzel. “We will continue to push for standards that are commodity-specific and science-based, consistent and applicable regardless of where grown, and provided with sufficient federal oversight to ensure effectiveness and credibility.”
Following the July passage of the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 in the House of Representatives, (HR. 2749), the Senate is now considering its own legislation on food safety, which will eventually be blended with the House bill.
Stenzel called on the Senate committee to reject calls to “water down” the food safety requirements in the bill as a way to satisfy some who say that small farms, organic farms or others shouldn’t have to comply.
Citing a number of small- and organic-farmer United Fresh members, which are “all are committed to following the same food safety rules that FDA sets for anyone else,” Stenzel said, “Size does not determine the importance of food safety -- every consumer’s health is just as important whether purchasing vegetables at a farmers’ market or a grocery store. Our industry has learned the painful lesson that we are only as strong as our weakest link. If Congress truly wants to build public confidence in our food safety system, all fruits and vegetables must comply with basic safety rules no matter where or how grown.”
Stenzel’s testimony on Thursday marks the 12th time his organization has testified before Congress on food safety since its board of directors adopted a series of policy principles for federal food safety oversight in January 2007.