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    PMA Tells FDA to Look Beyond GAPs, GMPs to Benchmarking

    Julia Stewart:

    Hello, this is PMA PR Director Julia Stewart, and welcome back to PMA’s audio blog, “Ask Dr. Bob.” PMA’s Chief Science Officer Dr. Bob Whitaker is with me today to talk about new developments regarding the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s food safety guidance to the fruit and vegetable industry. The agency’s voluntary guidance for produce suppliers is called “Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables.” It was originally published in 1998 – the agency recently asked the public for comments on how it could update that guidance.

    Bob, you wrote PMA’s response to FDA’s request for input on its guide. What exactly did you have to say to the agency?

    Bob Whitaker:

    Julia, we urged the agency to go beyond good agricultural practices and good manufacturing practices – known as GAPs and GMPs – to instead develop food safety benchmark guidance that could be used to then develop produce-specific food safety standards. Anyone who wants to develop standards, whether in the public or private sector, would then use FDA’s guidance as a framework to develop their standards.

    Here’s why we asked for this. We know that our industry’s suppliers are being pressured to comply with more and more food safety standards from all their different customers – and the more standards they have to meet, the more work they have to do and the more money they have to spend. This proliferation of competing standards isn’t necessary, nor is it necessarily helpful in safeguarding the food supply. This is a case where smarter standards would get the job done better.

    If FDA would go beyond voluntary guidance like its GAP and GMP guide, and develop mandatory, science-based standards, there would be a lot less confusion and variability in the marketplace. We know our members would appreciate that.

    That’s not all we asked for, though. We also urged the agency to then become the agency that would evaluate potential standards against its own benchmarks, and recognize valid standards that meet those benchmarks – or disapprove ones that are found lacking against the benchmarks.

    This would be a monumental shift in FDA practice that would catapult the agency from the passive role of just offering voluntary guidance, to actively mandating food safety programs measured by the agency against its own benchmarks. This would go a long way to clarify how to produce fruits and vegetables safely, by reinforcing the importance of risk- and science-based practices across the entire supply chain. That, in turn, would help address the growing wariness that consumers have regarding the safety of fresh produce.


    Thank you, Bob. I think our members will agree that the approach that PMA has proposed – that FDA become a standards-setting and evaluating body – would help reduce or eliminate the audit fatigue we’re all experiencing, and leave us with better, stronger food safety programs in the end. That’s a goal that all of us can support.

    PMA also offered lots of comments on how FDA can update its guide. If you’d like to read PMA’s full comments, then visit PMA.com; look up “food safety” under the issues tab, the comments we submitted to FDA on Dec. 30, 2008, are posted on that page.

    Thanks very much to our listeners, please join us again next time!

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