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Preventing E. coli: Industry group asks for federal regulation

In the wake of E. coli outbreaks traced to spinach and lettuce last year, and in many years prior to 2006, the United Fresh Produce Association is asking for federal regulations to set standards for produce safety and the Government Accountability Office listed food safety as a high-risk area. In an article from the Philadelphia Inquirer, which focused on what small, local, farmers are doing to ensure produce safety, concerns about regional marketing agreements and state or local regulations were highlighted:

However, such state-by-state and commodity-by-commodity standards are not satisfactory, said Tom Stenzel, president of the United Fresh Produce Association in Washington. Stenzel’s trade group is calling for national regulations enforced by government agencies.

"The consumer is not going to have full trust in a self-regulatory system. That’s a hard pill for us as an industry to swallow," said Stenzel, who is scheduled to speak tomorrow at the New Jersey State Agricultural Convention in Atlantic City. It starts today and runs through Wednesday.

Existing federal regulations on food safety need to be improved, according to the federal Government Accountability Office, which added the federal food-safety system to its list of high-risk areas of government activity less than two weeks ago. The main issue is fragmentation, with 15 agencies administering at least 30 laws related to food safety.

Discussions among produce-industry groups and regulators are coming at a time when E. coli and other human pathogens are less prevalent – the colder months. It is in anticipation of the summer and fall growing season that concerns are being addressed now. From the Arizona Republic:

Lettuce and spinach production begins in the Salinas Valley in the spring. Production moves south as the weather cools, with farms in Yuma County and California’s Imperial Valley producing the crops during the winter.

"In the history of Yuma agriculture, we have never had any sort of an outbreak with our leafy-greens," said Kurt Nolte, area agriculture agent for the Yuma County Cooperative Extension, part of the University of Arizona. "The nature of food outbreaks occurs during the warm periods of the year."

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