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    PMA’s Food Safety Government Relations: Prioritizing our Work

    Meg Miller:
    Hello, this is PMA public relations manager Meg Miller, and welcome back to our audio blog, “Ask Dr. Bob” with PMA’s Chief Science & Technology Officer Dr. Bob Whitaker. This is the second of a series of posts about PMA’s government affairs activities in the food safety area. In our last post we discussed PMA’s “solution provider” approach, to inform and influence government. This time, let’s talk about where PMA focuses its energies on food safety and its government affairs work.

    We’ve got a lot of exciting stuff going on, Meg, but one thing we place a priority on is providing written comments to the Food and Drug Administration. I’m talking about when FDA publishes notices in the Federal Register requesting comments to help inform their work, or about a proposed regulation. I have to admit I used to be skeptical about the value of written comments. When I first joined PMA, there were several different opportunities to prepare comments, and I have to say I thought it was a waste of time.  I didn’t think FDA really paid much attention to what we had to say. Boy, was I wrong! 

    What I found was that FDA didn’t just read PMA’s comments, they valued them and used them. In fact one time I encountered an FDA person at a professional meeting who actually had PMA’s comments with them and had been reviewing them on the airplane on their way to the meeting.  This person had made handwritten notes on them, and it really struck me how seriously FDA takes these comments and how impactful they can be.

    Our efforts in writing comments, along with some “get to know you” meetings that we had at FDA right after I started at PMA, have also led to other ways we interact with FDA. These include conducting field tours for regulators, and making phone connections – that’s what I call fielding those phone calls from FDA when they have questions on industry practices or food safety science questions. This work also includes what we at PMA sometimes refer to as “wise-person” visits – where we’re invited by FDA to spend time with staff to answer their food safety questions, on topics ranging from scientific issues to industry practices and enforcement. 

    Our approach as a “solution provider” – combined with our staff’s scientific and industry expertise and our members’ boots-on-the-ground expertise – have well positioned PMA to impact key FDA activities pertaining to produce safety.  And I can’t stress enough how helpful our members’ involvement is, whether they are testifying at a hearing or meeting, or participating in field tours, visiting their congressional staff, or giving us input on comments we plan to submit.

    So what do you see coming?

    Our focus over the next few years will be to influence implementation of the new federal food safety law of the land – the Food Safety Modernization Act – as much as possible. PMA supported this bill when it was first introduced because we believed produce-specific legislation was needed to level the playing field for everyone in our industry, and to help restore consumer confidence in the safety of fresh produce. (Meg, you’ll remember we had to withdraw that support late in 2010 after exemptions were added that we thought were counter to food safety.)

    Now that the bill has been enacted into law, our attention shifts to FDA, which is charged with developing regulations to implement the new law. If this was a football game, we’d basically midway through the second quarter. The industry has asked for regulation, Congress has responded with legislation and the President has signed it into law. FDA is analogous to the coaching staff that is now gathering information and getting ready for the second half. In our case, this second half includes the pre-rulemaking stage, the rulemaking process, and then getting the rules implemented.  Our goal will be to get regulations that will work as well as possible for our industry, and to help grow our markets, not limit them.

    So next time, let’s talk about our game plan for those different stages. Listeners, if you’d like more information about the Food Safety Modernization Act, you can find some great resources on PMA’s website, www.pma.com, in the Resources section – look for the Government Relations page. If you have specific questions on food safety issues, please email Dr. Bob at AskDrBob@pma.com.

    Thanks for joining us!

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