While U.S. Food and Drug Administration officials have
admitted that growing and packing practices for fresh fruits and vegetables
needs to improve, they went on to say they favor voluntary guidelines that
would allow the produce industry to regulate itself.
At a recent FDA public hearing on the issue, Elisa
Odabashian, West Coast director of Consumers Union - who has been critical of
the FDA's stance to allow the produce industry to self-police - said the agency
isn't doing nearly enough to protect consumers from future food-borne
And many produce truckers - including OOIDA Regulatory
Affairs Specialist Joe Rajkovacz who hauled produce for 20 years before joining
the Association's staff - say that the FDA isn't doing anything to ensure the physical
or financial safety of those who transport the nation's food.
Many of the concerns raised by Odabashian are among the
concerns the truckers have.
"If the leafy green industry ever hopes to regain consumer
trust, it must be regulated by an authority other than itself," Odabashian said
at the hearing.
"At this moment all across America, the consumer perspective
is one of deep disappointment in government agencies, both at federal and state
levels, that have failed to safeguard the food supply."
In an attempt to thwart government regulations by the FDA
and other government agencies, the produce industry rolled out its own
voluntary Leafy Green Marketing Agreement for Handlers in California, which was
certified by the California Department of Food and Agriculture and led by the
industry-backed Western Growers Association. California growers are expected to
adopt the new voluntary set of standards next week.
In exchange for voluntary participation in the marketing
agreement, companies would pay money to use a certification mark on their
produce in exchange for following suggested best practices adopted by the
industry-led Leafy Green Handler Advisory Board.
Odabashian said this is the wrong approach to improving food
"Safety should not be used as a marketing tool when it comes
to food," she said. "It should not be something that consumers must search out
and possibly pay extra for - leaving poor consumers at risk."
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association recently
sent a letter of support for a proposal by Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, whose
proposed legislation in California would impose mandatory regulations and
enforcement actions within the state.
The legislation also supports the need for federal oversight
to ensure and protect public health A Senate hearing on the food safety bills
has been rescheduled for Tuesday, March 27.
James Gorny, vice president of food safety and technology for
the United Fresh Produce Association, said at the public hearing he believes
the only way to improve consumer confidence in the federal government is
through federal oversight and mandatory regulation.
- By Clarissa
Kell-Holland, staff writer