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SPECIAL EDITION II:
As Tomato/Salmonella Outbreak
Expands, Government Agencies
Require More Scrutiny

Pundit’s Mailbag — PMA And Others
Part Of Alliance For Stronger FDA

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, June 10, 2008

Salmonella And Tomatoes Linked In New Mexico was our first piece on the salmonella/tomato incident but hardly our last. It was quickly followed up with our SPECIAL REPORT: Tomato/Salmonella Outbreak…Insights and Analysis and that led to a brief note from PMA:

Just wanted to be sure you’re aware that PMA and others are part of the Alliance for a Stronger FDA and we are working to increase resources for the agency.

— Kathy Means
Vice President of Government Relations and Public Affairs
Produce Marketing Association
Newark, Delaware

Kathy was specifically responding to our piece, Tomato./Salmonella Situation Cries For Improved Epidemiology, which was part of our Special Edition and featured an important letter by James R. Gorny, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Postharvest Technology Research & Information Center, University of California, Davis, California, which pointed out:

Public health agencies are currently fragmented and under-resourced to effectively monitor and respond rapidly to developing public health issues.

We also commented on the letter by saying this:

Can the Center for Produce Safety look to develop better tools for epidemiology in produce? Can the government relations pros at PMA, United, WGA, FFVA, etc., get budget allocations to beef up staffing and pay people in a way likely to increase competency?

And PMA has supported efforts to increase FDA staff and funding:

Statement: PMA supports FDA hiring plans

In light of today’s FDA announcement (available at http://www.fda.gov/bbs/topics/NEWS/2008/
NEW01829.html
) on adding new staff to assure the safety of drugs, medical devices, food, and other products, Produce Marketing Association (PMA) is pleased to see the agency undertake such an ambitious hiring program to further bolster its capacity to protect public health.

PMA continues to advocate for increased funding for the agency during Hill visits. We urge FDA to allocate additional resources for the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) in order for CFSAN to better fulfill its important produce food safety mission.

On balance we support all this but do have some thoughts:

First, we are a little concerned that more money without institutional reform may not achieve much. What we need is a move to a proactive risk-based food safety assessment system, not this hysterical reaction whenever something goes wrong.

Second, we are concerned about the ability of the public sector to attract and retain top scientists. Putting more money in without changing salary parameters means the FDA will have a few highly dedicated public servants and many people less competent than those in the private sector.

Third, with all our work on different food safety outbreaks — the spinach crisis, botulism, the Honduran cantaloupe situation and many others, including the current salmonella Saintpaul situation, we find that the FDA and CDC get all the attention but it is often the state laboratories and public health departments that do the work. And these vary wildly in quality. We suspect a mechanism to do something on the state level may be very important.

This current outbreak was discovered due to the energy of the team in New Mexico.

Many thanks to Kathy Means and to PMA for keeping us abreast of the association’s activities.

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