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CU calls for mandatory safety measures for fresh produce

Friday, April 13, 2007

Consumers Union Calls for Mandatory Safety Measures for Fresh Produce

Washington, DC— Consumers Union today will testify before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration asking for mandatory safety practices for fruits and vegetables to ensure a safer produce supply.
“The safety of the food we buy is a fundamental expectation of consumers, and government must use its standard-setting, investigative and enforcement powers to see that this expectation is fulfilled,” reads the testimony of Sally Greenberg, Senior Counsel at Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports magazine.
In the last five months more than 200 consumers in 26 states ate spinach contaminated by E. Coli. Five incidents were fatal and over 100 required hospitalization. Another E. Coli outbreak came from shredded lettuce, with at least 150 people falling ill.
A national survey released by Rutgers University’s Food Policy Institute last month suggests that last September’s spinach recall could have lasting effects on consumers’ consumption of spinach and other vegetables. The testimony describes the lack of confidence in the nation’s food supply and concerns among citizens that government agencies, both at the federal and state levels, have failed to safeguard the food supply.
Last week, the FDA published voluntary industry guidelines that are not “legally enforceable responsibilities.” According to the document, “[they] describe the Agency’s current thinking on a topic and should be viewed only as recommendations…The use of the word should in Agency guidance means that something is suggested or recommended, but not required.”
“Fruits and vegetables are among the healthiest foods we can consume. Leaving it up to the producer to decide which guidelines they choose to follow is unacceptable. The safety of our produce should not be an option,” said Greenberg.
Consumers Union is calling for mandatory regulations on produce production that includes:

  • Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) for all farms and Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) programs for all processors;
  • written food safety plans showing how producers will comply with GAPs;
  • third-party audits;
  • trace-back systems that include package identifiers so that each item can be traced all the way back to the field in which it originated;
  • FDA inspections at least yearly, made possible by substantially increased funding by Congress;
  • FDA enforcement with stiff penalties.

Consumers Union also supports creation of a single food agency to ensure adequate, efficient, and effective oversight of our nation’s food supply.
Click here for a copy of the testimony.
Contact: Jennifer Fuson, fusoje@consumer.org, or Sally Greenberg, greesa@consumer.org, 202-462-6262