Friday, July 31, 2009 by Kathy Means
It was a big week for produce safety: Thursday the House passed its food safety bill, and Friday FDA announced proposed food safety guidance for melons, tomatoes and leafy greens. Both actions are in line with what PMA has called for based on our food safety priorities. (Though this might be confusing because of the similar subject matter, it’s likely that what FDA is doing now on the executive branch side will fit in neatly with the legislative branch’s food safety action when it comes time to turn that legislation into implementing regulation – in part because we’ll be working to ensure industry representation in both efforts.)
From our standpoint, one of the most important takeaways from this week is that we saw clear evidence of the increased collaboration that has taken place between government and industry on both the regulatory and legislative efforts. FDA’s guidance is built on the strong foundation that industry laid through commodity-specific guidance written over the past five years. And the legislation the House passed is significantly better than earlier versions because those crafting the bill listened to the real-world practicalities we raised. We’ve been working within the process to express our members’ needs, to explain how the industry works, to find the most efficient ways to achieve our common goal – produce safety. Though we all have the same goal, we don’t all have the same perspective, and we get a better result when all perspectives are heard, as we did with the guidance and the House bill.
Our job is not complete by any means. On the legislative side, we will see the Senate address food safety, probably this fall. The Senate and House versions will be reconciled through a conference committee, and then the final legislation goes to President Obama for his signature. On the regulatory side, we have a 90-day comment period on the FDA guidance, after which the agency likely will issue final guidance. Even that will not be the end, as FDA indicated to us today that this guidance is a precursor to regulation, and that we can expect that regulation within two years.
Rest assured, PMA will be involved in both the legislative and regulatory process, making sure our members’ views are represented. Part of that will involve calling on you as needed to express your views and lend your expertise. When we call, we hope you’ll answer!