Archive for the ‘Growing and Production’ Category

Tuesday, January 28, 2014 by Kathy Means

Free tool helps communicate about organics

Field to Fork readers know we are a fan of the Alliance for Food and Farming and its science-based, consumer-friendly information on pesticides in produce. And, in full disclosure, PMA supports the Alliance and its efforts to communicate this information.

The news today is that the Alliance has a new web resource on pesticide use rules for organics in the United States. The site rightly notes that “organic” is a production method, not an assessment of safety, nutrition, or other attributes. And, in a reader-friendly way, it explains the pesticides that are allowed in organic production and those that are not allowed. It stresses that organic and conventionally produced produce are safe and healthful.

More than ever before, we have to be transparent to consumers. They want information about how their produce is grown. They want to connect – to the farmer, to community, etc. So we have to be prepared and eager to communicate about our industry and practices so that we can make those connections. The Alliance has brought us a new tool to help us do this.

Check it out and let us know what you think about this on PMA Xchange.

Monday, January 27, 2014 by Lee Mannering

Talking technology with PMA’s Dr. Bob Whitaker

One of the (many) interesting things I’ve found about my time in the fresh produce industry is watching the evolution of business practices. When I came on board, Price Look Up codes were just beginning to be adopted; now the focus is on the Databar. The same holds true with technology.

Recently PMA announced a new focus on technology and how we’re helping members understand and connect with future opportunities. So I asked Dr. Bob Whitaker, PMA’s chief science and technology officer, to share his perspectives in this brief Q&A:

Why are we focusing on technology?
“We know that technology holds the key to helping us feed the world through innovation. It’s PMA’s job to help members glean inside knowledge about cutting-edge, emerging technologies, and how to apply that knowledge to improve their bottom line. We’re going to help members do that, not only by introducing the industry to the possibilities, but also educating them on what problems these technologies could really help alleviate, and how.”

What resources do we offer in technology?
“We’ve been working with members over the last several months to grow the value we’ll deliver in the Science and Technology area of our new strategic plan. Building on existing resources in the field of technology like UPC Link, Databar Online and the Food Safety Modernization Act Resource Center, we invested resources in developing resources that are geared toward building profitability and global demand for fresh produce. This year, we’ll have three new offerings – two unique events and a series of year-round technology content in the areas of food safety detection, production input management, and data science.

What tech-focused events are coming up on our calendar that members may be interested in?
“We’ve got two scheduled for this year. On March 26 in St. Petersburg, Florida, we will host PMA Tech Talks, where a handful of speakers will talk about technologies that are doing great things in other industries, and then bring them home to produce. Then on May 21-22 in San Diego, California, we’re holding Tech Knowledge, which will help companies looking for education and connections to technology that’s on the very near horizon. Additionally, entrepreneurs and solution providers will have the chance to connect with potential investors and other key decision makers.”

To get more details on the upcoming technology offerings, visit the PMA website, where we’ve also added a new Tech Center that highlights all available member resources.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014 by Kathy Means

Government market data: Understand how it can work for you

Here on Field to Fork, Lee and I often write about government reports and statistics, especially those from USDA. Many factors affect your business: consumer demands, weather, prices, trade policies, and more.

Government reports offer baseline information about market variables. These resources can help everyone in the supply chain make essential business decisions. Yet today, the nation’s data and statistical agencies face unprecedented pressure to assess and reduce their costs. As a result, there have been suspension, aggregation, and even, in some cases, an elimination of data and statistical assessments critical for alleviating market volatility and uncertainties.

However, in the midst of these changes, a consortium of organizations is offering a webinar on Friday, January 24 at 2 p.m. EST, on the role of federal data sources in fruit and vegetable markets.

If you’re interested in this information, you can register here.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014 by Lee Mannering

Center for Produce Safety announces call for 2014 research proposals

For those in the industry and academia who are interested in food safety research, today the Center for Produce Safety announced its 2014 request for proposals (RFP). This year, the Center and its public and industry research partners are making $3 million available to fund general and commodity-specific research aimed at addressing the fresh produce industry’s food safety research needs.

The 2014 RFP seeks to fund both general produce food safety questions and commodity-specific questions. Core (general produce) research priorities endeavor to better understand risk potential and to develop more effective food safety management tools. Factors affecting human pathogen persistence, routes of produce contamination, agricultural water, and harvest and postharvest water are among the core research areas listed.

Our own Vice President of Food Safety and Technology Dr. Jim Gorny notes that “this request for proposals builds on previously funded CPS research and provides a clear roadmap to generate the information needed to develop science and risk-based best practices and policies to enhance produce safety across the supply chain.”

To get more details on this year’s research priorities, visit the CPS website. Proposals are due March 14 and should be submitted through the CPS Grant System website.

Also, mark your calendars now for the 2014 CPS Research Symposium, which will be June 24-25 in Newport Beach, California. Every year, PMA’s Dr. Bob Whitaker and Dr. Jim Gorny help translate the implications of the Center’s work. You can access a key learnings document from the 2013 symposium along with a video recap highlighting those learnings via the PMA website.

Monday, January 13, 2014 by Kathy Means

Report finds low pesticide residue levels on produce

From time to time we call your attention to reports that you can use when asked about industry issues – in this case pesticide residues on produce.

Late last year, California issued its report on 2012 pesticide residues in fruits and vegetables, which showed that more than half of the items tested had no detectable residues. A little over one-third had residues within the tolerance levels, and less than 3% had illegal residues of pesticides that are safe but not approved for the commodity on which they were found. Less than 1% had residues that exceeded the legal tolerance.

About two-thirds of the samples were for U.S.-grown produce and one-third of the samples were imports.

The California Department of Pesticide Regulation, which issued the report, also offered some context: “…(T)he findings of the California Pesticide Residue Monitoring Program have been consistent in recent years. From 2007 to 2012, more than 96% of produce samples either had no detected pesticide residues or pesticide residues well below the allowable tolerances. Pesticide residues that are found are usually at levels of a fraction of a part per million (ppm). In most years, less than 4 percent of all the samples analyzed have illegal pesticide residues.

“While the overall goal of DPR’s regulatory program is to ensure that all food is in compliance with pesticide safety standards, a produce item with an illegal residue level does not necessarily indicate a health hazard.”

It’s important that we all be able to talk about crop protection tools and consumer safety. PMA supports the Alliance for Food and Farming, which hosts the Safe Fruits and Veggies website. There you can find a variety of tools and information to help you communicate about the safety of our industry and its products.

Join us to talk about this and other topics on PMA Xchange.

Monday, December 23, 2013 by Lee Mannering

FSMA update: FDA to update provisions in produce safety, preventive controls proposed rules

Last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced it will be issuing an updated and amended version of key provision areas for the proposed produce safety and preventive controls rules. These areas include water quality standards and testing, standards for using raw manure and compost, as well as certain provisions affecting mixed-use facilities and procedures for withdrawing the qualified exemption for certain farms.

In a blog post, FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine Michael Taylor noted this change is due to the discussions FDA has had with farmers, the research community and others, and as a result, the FDA’s thinking has evolved. “Everyone shares the goal of ensuring produce safety, but, as we said at the beginning of the process, the new safety standards must be flexible enough to accommodate reasonably the great diversity of the produce sector, and they must be practical to implement,” Taylor stated.

FDA anticipates publishing the revised proposed rule provisions early next summer, and FDA noted in their statement that they are under a court order regarding the timelines for finalizing these rules by June 2015. Again, the entirety of the proposed produce and preventative controls rules will likely not be open for comment – only a limited number of key provisions.

PMA’s Produce Safety, Science and Technology committee, working with our food safety staff experts, look forward to reading, reviewing and commenting on the FDA’s revisions that have been informed by the comments of literally thousands of stakeholders during the initial comment period. We commend FDA for listening to and acknowledging significant concerns we raised in our comments submitted in November. Executive summaries of those comments are available here, or you can view highlights of our comments in a short video from Dr. Bob Whitaker).

As FSMA moves forward, we will continue to engage in dialog with FDA through finalization of the rules, during the development of compliance policy guidance, and implementation of the final rules. Our next set of comments to FDA will come in late January, when comments are due on the foreign supplier verification and third-party audit accreditation proposed rules.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact Drs. Bob Whitaker and Jim Gorny.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013 by Lee Mannering

Upcoming USDA Webinar to explore fresh produce inspections

A couple of weeks ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Marketing Service hosted a free Webinar focused on Good Agricultural Practices and Good Manufacturing Practices. Next week, AMS continues its industry outreach efforts with another learning opportunity based on the most common question received via the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act (PACA) customer service line: “Interpreting USDA Fruit & Vegetable Inspections: Does the Shipment Make Good Delivery?”

On December 5 from 2:00-3:00 p.m. Eastern, Jacob Garcia, PACA Marketing Specialist, will discuss:

  •  The sections found on a USDA inspection certificate.
  • When you should call for an inspection.
  • What type of inspection you should request.
  • The difference between quality and condition defects.
  • The questions will PACA ask you, when calling the customer service line.
  • Your responsibilities after receiving an inspection certificate.
  • Examples on how to interpret an inspection.

The webinar will conclude with a question and answer session.

As with all of USDA’s Webinars, this session is free; however, registration is required and space is limited. You can register via the USDA website.

Monday, November 25, 2013 by Lee Mannering

USDA seeks nominations for fruit and vegetable industry advisory committee

In today’s Federal Register, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service issued a request for nominations for the 2013-2015 Fruit and Vegetable Industry Advisory Committee.

Industry members will be appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture and serve two to three year terms. Membership will consist of up to 25 members who represent the fruit and vegetable industry and will include individuals representing fruit and vegetable growers/shippers, wholesalers, brokers, retailers, processors, fresh-cut processors, foodservice suppliers, state agencies involved in organic and non-organic fresh fruits and vegetables at local, regional and national levels, state departments of agriculture, and trade associations.

To ensure that the recommendations of the Committee have taken into account the needs of the diverse groups served by USDA, membership shall include, to the extent practicable, individuals with demonstrated ability to represent minorities, women, persons with disabilities, and limited resource agriculture producers.

If you’re interested in learning more about the USDA FVIAC, you can get more details on this opportunity via today’s Federal Register notice.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013 by Lee Mannering

FSMA update: PMA comments on proposed produce safety rule

Prior to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announcing the extension to this Friday for produce safety proposed rule comments, PMA submitted our comments to the agency on this important Food Safety Modernization Act proposal; these are available on our FSMA Resource Center.

To help our members quickly understand the key points of our comments to FDA (which clock in at 102 pages), we have developed a six-page executive summary. I’ve highlighted some of these below but I encourage you to read the full summary and the comments.

  • PMA is supportive of the FDA produce safety regulation exempting commodities destined to receive commercial processing that adequately reduces the presence of pathogenic microorganisms (should they be present).
  • PMA opposes the exclusion of farms with less than $25,000 in annual food sales because there is no scientific basis to support the exclusion.
  • PMA opposes the “qualified exemption” and recommends that this exemption be eliminated. PMA understands that FDA is statutorily obliged to provide this “qualified exemption;” however, it should be noted that the “qualified exemption” is not science- or risk-based, as food safety risks are not limited to any particular business size, market channel or geographic radius.
  • PMA opposes the use of a list of exempted commodities based on consumer preparation for consumption and recommends that this exemption be eliminated. PMA does not support the approach of using a commodity-specific list of exempt products based on current likely means of consumer preparation and consumption for produce commodities.

In our comments, we urge FDA to align the requirements of the produce and preventive controls rules because a more seamless integration of the two rules will strengthen enforcement and reduce confusion. This alignment will also reflect the realities of produce production and handling.

Also included in the executive summary is a synopsis of our position on microbial standards for agricultural water, FDA-mandated numerical preventive controls for agricultural water, and other key issues.

To learn more, visit the What’s New tab in our FSMA Resource Center to access the executive summary of our produce safety proposed rule comments, our proposal comments. Or if you’re pressed for time, you can watch the five-minute video below from PMA’s Chief Science & Technology Officer Dr. Bob Whitaker as he summarizes our comments to FDA. (If the embedded video does not display, you can watch it here on Youtube.)

Monday, November 18, 2013 by Lee Mannering

FSMA update: Clearing up comments’ deadline confusion

If you were following the Twitter conversations on the #FSMA hashtag last week, you probably noticed quite a few Tweets about frustrations around the technical difficulties stakeholders were experiencing when trying to submit comments to the website.

In response to these concerns, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration FDA made two separate announcements last Friday that caused PMA members to contact us for clarification on what was due and when it was due. Below are the new deadline dates and a recap of each:

  • November 22, 2013: This is the new due date for industry comments on the proposed rules on produce safety and preventive controls for human foods. Comments were originally due last Friday, November 15, but FDA pushed the deadline back by a week due to the aforementioned technical difficulties.
  • March 15, 2014: This is the new due date for industry comments on the environmental impact statement (EIS) that is related to the produce safety proposed rule. Comments were originally due last Friday as well. Again, this March 15 deadline is for feedback on the EIS only.

Some PMA members have asked about the environmental impact statement (EIS) and what it is about. Our Vice President of Food Safety and Technology Dr. Jim Gorny notes that “the FDA call for comments about the agency’s preparation of an environmental impact statement for the proposed produce safety rule is a separate and distinct issue from the proposed provisions put forth in the proposed the produce safety rule. The EIS is intended to evaluate the potential environmental effects of the proposed produce safety rule.”

In addition, a few weeks ago FDA announced it was extending the comment period on the foreign supplier verification and third-party audit accreditation proposed rules by 60 days. The new deadline is January 27, 2014.

PMA members are encouraged to visit to visit our FSMA Resource Center to access the latest FDA and PMA information resources, as well as our FSMA Community on PMA Xchange to ask questions and engage in conversations on this important food safety issue.

Tomorrow I’ll be taking a look at our comments on the produce safety proposed rule, with comments on the preventive controls rule coming Wednesday.