by Julia Stewart of PMA, here are comments by Kathy Means to FDA today:
Produce Marketing Association
Comments for Food and Drug Administration Transparency Task Force
June 24, 2009
Thank you for the opportunity to address this group. I am Kathy Means, Vice
President of Government Relations and Public Affairs, speaking for the
Produce Marketing Association. We represent more than 3,000 companies
throughout the food distribution chain that market more than 90% of fresh
produce sold at the consumer level.
Prevention of foodborne illness is a top priority for the fresh produce
industry and the FDA. On the rare occasions when a foodborne illness
outbreak occurs, our collective priority is to stop the spread of the
outbreak, often by removing the food linked to the outbreak from the supply
During recent foodborne illness outbreaks linked to fresh produce, we have
discovered that closer efforts between the fresh produce industry and FDA
may speed the investigations, thereby protecting public health. FDA’s
ability to share information with industry will allow industry to provide
valuable information back to FDA.
We understand the need for the regulator and the regulated industry to
maintain an appropriate distance, yet we believe that finding a way to work
more closely together is essential to protecting public health.
We recommend establishing a structure within which FDA can use industry
experts – individually and/or as a team – to learn more about the
industry’s practices. Using these experts would be important in two ways.
The first application is when there is no outbreak. Experts on those fresh
produce commodities FDA has identified as most likely to be linked to
foodborne illness outbreaks could educate FDA on the commodities,
production methods, distribution patterns, and more. We might undertake
mock exercises to determine whether we have the right experts and the right
information, allowing us to fill in any gaps during calm times. In this
way, should an outbreak occur, FDA will already be familiar with the
commodity and its movement through the supply chain.
The second application would be when an outbreak occurs. These experts can
help FDA determine specific product sources and distribution patterns, in
addition to any unique factors that might be affecting that commodity or
its distribution at that particular time.
Existing rules about interaction between the industry and FDA might have to
be changed, and we would gladly work with FDA to identify opportunities to
make this work.
Another area of transparency involves FDA and state or local health
department coordination. We call attention to the CALFERT program in which
FDA and the California Department of Health Services work together in
emergencies. Not all states have equal capabilities or capacities when it
comes to foodborne illness investigations. During outbreaks, as the
industry seeks information to help us respond effectively, we often hear
that states have not yet shared information or that the information states
give to FDA cannot be shared with us. Broader information sharing will help
all work swiftly toward the same goal – protecting public health.
We can all work together better to achieve our common goal when we have the
necessary information. Improvements to transparency among all the health
agencies are important, as is improving the capacities and capabilities of
Finally, the public would benefit from improved transparency when health
emergencies are over. FDA does an excellent job of reporting public health
threats, such as asking consumers to avoid certain foods when a foodborne
illness outbreak occurs. The public needs just as strong a communication
when that threat is over. We urge FDA to include in its protocols an “all
clear” procedure that will alert the public that they can resume eating a
particular food when it is again safe to do so.
In conclusion, I want to stress again that we all have the same priority –
protecting public health. We have seen improved efforts by FDA to gather
industry information to help with its investigations. We must continue down
that path and discover new ways to work together to speed and improve
public health efforts.
Kathy Means, Vice President Government Relations and Public Affairs
Produce Marketing Association