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Food Safety Call - 10 Aug 2010

THIS MONTH WE WILL NOT HAVE A FOOD SAFETY CALL ON AUGUST 10 (Second Tuesday) but will expand our webinar access to the next United Fresh GAP Harmonization meeting.  Our next Food Safety call will be September 7th, the FIRST Tuesday in September.

Watch the recorded webinar, download the slides, etc.

We “piloted” our webinar format to enable off-site participants to connect with the GAP Harmonization activities in July in San Jose, CA.  Based on what we learned we will be improving the program and expanding its format.  We expect to provide access beginning at 9am Eastern Time until 5pm on Wednesday, and then again at 8:30am Thursday until work ends, usually around 2pm.

Callers will be able to log onto the webinar and observe the work in process, and hear the discussion among the TWG members.  Webinar attendees will be able to send questions to the TWG from their keyboard, but will not have audio capability.  These questions can be relayed into the discussion by NGFN Food Safety Coordinator Steve Warshawer, who will be in attendance and moderating the webinar.

 

Housekeeping and organizational update

Nothing new to report

Federal Legislative / Regulatory Update:

 

S510: The Food Safety Modernization Act

The latest word from Washington is that this bill will not be taken up before summer recess, and may be taken up in September.  Progress continues to be made in all areas of interest for advocates for local and regional food systems and small- and mid-scale farming.  Behind the scenes, sources report that the problematic issues being championed by consumer groups (such as the idea that a warning label should be applied to all food that does not come from FDA-inspected facilities) are simply being removed from the bill. The “identity preserved” food concept is gaining ground as an alternative to high tech traceback requirements (for some background on this concept, see the Food Safety Talks interview with Brian Snyder).  The geographic range in which food from exempt facilities can be sold is becoming realistic and useful.

The big issue that is emerging now is strategic: The House bill passed in August 2009 is less well-conceived in comparison to the Senate bill.  Readers may remember that the House bill was rushed through, and that little or no contact occurred between our advocacy team and the Energy and Commerce Committee which produced the bill.  The only success that advocates of smaller scale growers found was a one-day reprieve when the Democratic leadership was embarrassed by many of its members refusing to pass the bill without discussion or amendment due largely to our concerns not being addressed in the bill. 

Once the Senate bill passes, there is some concern about what the shape and content of the bill will be when, in conference, the House and Senate bills will be reconciled, due to the unsatisfactory nature of the House bill. It is possible that advocates will want to orchestrate a grass roots campaign to get House members to push for acceptance of the Senate Bill.

But all of this is still wildly speculative, as it is hard to gauge when the Senate will take up S.510, and how it will be handled.  Even if the Senate passes a bill in September, with elections around the corner, the conference will not happen right away, leading to the spectre of a lame duck congress attempting to reconcile the two bills. Progress of the bills into law in this case also seems unlikely.

Advocates are wondering what will happen if both bills die and the whole process must begin again in the next Senate.  A major concern is that FDA is currently in high gear gathering public comment and drafting regulations.  Implementation of new regulation under the existing statutory authority, driven by an “active” FDA under the leadership of Michael Taylor is not an exciting prospect.  Many advocates feel that a new bill, even if not perfect, will at least provide bounds and direction to FDA as it engages the business of regulating high-risk food, including produce.

A special note on “action alerts” and S510

Does everyone remember last spring? The virulent, viral, internet “scare campaign” about HR875?  That campaign, which was launched by unknown, unidentified, anonymous actors, led to an enormous amount of chaos and confusion for many parties, including producers and advocates, and was in no way accurate enough to be worth the attention it received.

This piece is an attempt to cast S510 in a light similar to HR875.  It is a great read, and for anyone who has been following S510 it is so obviously and patently absurd that it holds no credence. Here is Steve Gilman of NOFA Interstate Council's response. (COMFOOD listserv posting. Free registration required.)

We encourage NGFN members and supporters NOT to forward any alarmist emails about S510.

USDA/FSIS: The National Advisory Committee on Meat & Poultry Inspection (NACMPI)

The first meeting of the newly appointed advisory committee will be held on September 29-30 at the USDA in Washington, DC.   

The format of this meeting will include an orientation for new members on the first morning, and then presentations and discussion on at one or two issues of interest to USDA Food Safety Undersecretary Elisabeth Hagen.

Of the 18 members of the committee: 10 identify themselves as "Dr."; 2 members are from consumer groups who have been very difficult to deal with during the food safety legislative process; at least two corporate representatives.  There is little representation for primary producers or for industry groups.

If anyone has more information or personal connections to any members, Steve W would appreciate an introduction.  Accordign to FSIS staff, the Committee has functioned in an informal consensus fashion as it makes recommendations to the Undersecretary.

The meetings are open to the public, and if anyone wishes to attend, please contact Steve W (messages sent to contact@ngfn.org will be forwarded as appropriate!).

FDA Produce handling guideline request:

Comment period has passed.

GAP Harmonization initiative: 

The DRAFT Produce GAP Standard has been published by United Fresh.  Here is the link to the draft standard, and the beginning of the work on the second draft, and the link to the blog where you can place comments.

The GAP Harmonization TWG is meeting in Philadelphia on August 25-6, hosted by the Produce Marketing Association.  A joint meeting with the newly formed Operations Committee is planned for September 13th, immediately before United Fresh's Washington Public Policy Conference.  The goal remains to present a “final draft” standard to the steering committee by October, 2010. Join us via webinar – register now.

Wild Farm Alliance initiative to support Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS): 

No answer yet from NRCS on the WFA grant application.

Familyfarmed.org on farm food safety planning tool:

Nothing new to report

Global GAP group Certification and other “alternative” GAP approaches:

GlobalGAP Executive Director Kristian Moeller has relocated to the US and opened an office in Bethesda, Maryland.   The GlobalGAP National TWG is finishing its review of the international, all farms, all crops standards. 

The first draft of GRASP (GlobalGAP Risk Assessment on Social Practice) “social responsibility” module has been released and stakeholders will be meeting on August 10th in Atlanta to discuss the North American interpretation. The draft interpretation can be found here.

Remember that for GlobalGAP and the rest of the world, GAP means more than avoiding food-borne illness and minimizing risk of microbial contamination of fresh produce.  Wallace/NGFN will be involved with this conversation.

Wallace Center / NGFN Commitment to evaluate and create QMS support tools:   

Nothing new to report on this front.  As stated in our July update: 

Wallace / NGFN Food Safety Coordinator continues to seek out and respond to inquiries about group certification, and to seek additional opportunities to inform buyers, growers, aggregators, media, agency personnel, ANY group or individuals who may play a key role in implementation of GAP, about the process and value of group certification. 


It all begins with buyer acceptance.  We particularly appreciate SYSCO's continued interest in and support for the group approach.  We look forward to gaining access to the resources needed to properly pilot a group cert process, and to build on that pilot by developing tools to make it easier for buyers, grower groups, and ultimately our end customers, to benefit from this approach.

 

USDA GAP research and pilot project:

Food Safety Coordinator Steve Warshawer recently met with Mark Lipson, formerly of OFRF and recently appointed “special assistant” at USDA Marketing and Regulatory programs to ask his help in determining the scope and direction of USDA's GAP pilot program.  It continues to be helpful for NGFN members and friends to keep us posted of contacts with you from USDA regarding this project.

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