HURON, Ohio — Staff and leaders of the Ohio Produce Growers & Marketers Association recently hosted officials from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and representatives of the Ohio Department of Agriculture, The Ohio State University and farmers on a tour of Ohio farms.
The purpose of the May 18 tour was to show the diversity of Ohio agriculture and that a one-size-fits-all approach to food safety is not a workable scenario.
According to OPGMA’s past president, Bob Jones, Jr. of The Chef’s Garden in Huron, Ohio, “The safety of the nation’s food supply is a principal concern for my own family’s farming operation and for other OPGMA members. The opportunity to tour a variety of differently-sized farms was important in our efforts to affect future policies on food safety that may be promulgated by the FDA.
“The stops on the tour included small- and medium-size family farms, including those operated by Amish families, and at each we were able to express the financial and other burdens of a food safety policy established with a model of a large commercial operation in mind. We deliver safe food every day, and we want to make sure all farmers can sustain their businesses with inclusive guidelines,” said Jones.
According to Michael Taylor, J.D., the FDA deputy commissioner for foods, who participated in Tuesday’s tour, “Ohio is a microcosm of the diversity of farms across the U.S.,” so the visit offered valuable insight into some of those challenges.
The FDA’s Food Protection Plan, released in November 2007, is a response to recalls of agricultural product associated with food-borne illnesses, including an E. coli outbreak, which was linked to bags of fresh spinach grown at a farm in California. From the inability in some cases to pinpoint where the food safety threat started, it is clear that stricter standards and oversight of the food producers should be considered.
“These events undermined consumer confidence, which was expressed in the marketplace,” said Taylor. He further explained that a message of concern was also coming from food producers, so policy makers had to take notice.
The FDA’s plan outlines three core elements in developing national food safety standards: prevention, intervention and response. However, developing standards that are adaptive to farms of varying sizes and products, from fruits and vegetables to dairy and meat, is a challenge that the FDA is approaching one step at a time.
Last week’s tour of Ohio farms culminated a 13-city tour for Taylor, FDA Associate Commissioner Sharon Natanblut, and other officials as they met with farmers in different regions across the country to get input into the development of national food safety standards.
“These visits have brought to life the issue. We see firsthand the collaboration and communication needed to understand the different perspectives on this issue. Producers are essential partners to educate us on the issues as we figure out the rules,” said Taylor.
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