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In comments submitted to the agency May 19, PMA's chief science officer Robert Whitaker urged the federal agency to set audit standards. PMA's request was made as part of the association's response to an agency request seeking information on U.S. and worldwide third-party food safety certification programs.
"We would hope FDA would move to establish, or partner to create, a globally recognized food safety standard that incorporates the effort the produce industry has invested in developing commodity-specific food safety programs, that are based on best current science, and that are grounded on the principles of risk assessment and risk management," said Whitaker, summarizing PMA's comments to the agency.
"We support the certification of third parties to perform audits, and we think it makes sense for FDA to become an accrediting body similar to USDA's role with the National Organic Program or alternately to align itself with an existing global accreditor," noted Whitaker. "But more importantly, right now we could use formal recognition that the body of work developed by the produce industry with the federal agencies and others over the last several years is the de facto standard," he continued.
FDA requested comments on third-party certification, seeking information on programs in the United States and around the world. The agency also asked whether third-party certification programs ensure compliance with FDA food safety requirements, and what obstacles exist to private sector participation in these third-party certification programs. Finally FDA asked for input on what incentives would increase participation in these third-party certification programs. Whitaker provided a snapshot of produce-specific programs; he also urged the agency to proceed carefully and with ample input from industry experts from across the supply chain.
"There is value in FDA having a mechanism to certify third parties, and the agency can certainly take steps to encourage participation in third-party certification programs," added PMA Vice President of Government Relations and Public Affairs Kathy Means. "If constructed correctly, a third-party certification program can meet the produce industry's needs, while also addressing the over-arching objective of both the industry and FDA to improve produce food safety."