United Fresh Produce Association president and CEO Tom Stenzel reiterated the produce industry’s support for strong commodity-specific food safety standards during testimony before the U.S. Senate this morning. This marks the 12th time United Fresh 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.
Stenzel and Michael Roberson, director of corporate quality assurance for Publix Super Markets, were the only industry representatives invited to testify at the hearing, along with Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg, the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, and the Center for Science in the Public Interest. The hearing of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions was the first to examine the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (S. 510), introduced in March by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL).
“The produce industry welcomes the opportunity to provide input on this extremely important legislation,” Stenzel said. “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 (HR. 2749), the Senate is now considering its own legislation on food safety, which will eventually be blended with the House bill.
Stenzel also 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.
“Mr. Chairman, I have a number of small farms and organic farms in our membership, and all are committed to following the same food safety rules that FDA sets for anyone else,” he 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.”