F.D.A., U.S.D.A. launch Produce Safety Alliance

by Eric Schroeder
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WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Cornell University have joined together to form a public-private organization geared toward providing produce growers and packagers with on-farm food safety knowledge. The F.D.A. is expected to issue a proposed rule on the safe production, harvesting and packing of produce in 2011.

The new Produce Safety Alliance is a three-year, $1.15 million partnership funded by the F.D.A. and the U.S.D.A. The organization will be housed at Cornell University through a grant from the U.S.D.A.’s Agricultural Marketing Service.

According to the F.D.A., the key elements of the alliance’s work include:

• Developing a standardized, but multi-formatted and multi-lingual education program on Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) and co-management;
• Creating an information bank of up-to-date scientific and technical information related to on-farm and packinghouse produce safety, environmental co-management, and eventually the F.D.A.’s proposed produce safety rule;
• Launching a web site to make the alliance’s work and information readily accessible;
• Establishing a network of educational collaborators;
• Conducting an assessment of existing educational outreach tools to identify knowledge gaps and to provide for continuous updating;
• Working with partners on the steering committee and others to develop and deliver train-the-trainer materials and sessions.

“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, deputy commissioner for foods at the F.D.A. “We also know that small growers and packers are especially interested in the kind of hands-on training and support envisioned by the alliance.”

In addition to the F.D.A., the U.S.D.A. and Cornell, 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 the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

“The alliance is another sign of our commitment to working with growers and packers and our federal partners at F.D.A. to make certain that our marketplace is economically strong and provides American families the safe, fresh produce they need for healthy diets,” said Ann Wright, deputy undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs at the U.S.D.A.

“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 F.D.A. moves forward in its rulemaking process.”

The F.D.A. and the U.S.D.A. are expected to issue updates on the progress and activities of the Produce Safety Alliance in the coming months.

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