Monday, September 21, 2009 by Bryan Silbermann
PMA connects FDA leadership and family farms during tour
Watching people connect in ways that makes light bulbs go off is immensely gratifying. And we saw lots of illuminating moments last Friday during the field tour of Delaware family farms we organized for FDA Commissioner Peggy Hamburg and some of her senior staff.
It was a unique opportunity to bring together the real world of fresh produce and the regulatory world of FDA. PMA grower members were open and forthright about food safety issues, and FDA officials eagerly absorbed what they heard.
What struck me most about this tour was the genuine interaction - talking, touching product, exploring issues, opening up audit records to show the detail behind the product itself. The promise of transparency and openness bore fruit on Friday.
Growers called for an even playing field with food safety for all that is scalable and sensitive to different needs and risks. FDA’s comments and questions made it clear they listen to growers’ comments and want to act on them. We talked about traceability, audits, records, and risk. We also covered basics that we in the produce world take for granted - how products are grown, handled and distributed, how apple packing lines measure color, and how they electronically sort sizes.
Special thanks to members Filasky’s Produce, Fifer Orchards, and Vincent Farms for opening their operations as a learning laboratory for FDA. Thanks to other growers and Delaware Department of Agriculture officials who joined us at lunch. And thanks to Gordon Johnson of the Cooperative Extension service at the University of Delaware who helped us pull this together and moderated our lunch discussion.
This is just one snapshot of PMA’s efforts to make that link between industry and government - to make those light bulbs go off and shine light on ways industry and regulators can and should work together.