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FDA Import Alert: Honduran Cantaloupe

The Failure Of The FDA And The Nature Of Information recognizes that at the core of the behavior of the FDA on food safety is a misunderstanding of the kind of information that has value. Some action is certainly prudent. For example, if a test comes back positive, FDA should certainly want to see other tests around that product. But the banning of production by a company as we saw with the Honduran cantaloupes, or issuing recommendations not to consume products requires a different standard of proof. We pointed out during the import alert against Agropecuaria Montelibano that the FDA’s position made no sense. It is also not clear at all that the FDA is helping public health by destroying the pistachio industry. 4/7/2009

Christmas In Honduras… A Bright New Year Ahead shares news of a really great Christmas present. It is a horribly sad and unfair story in which Agropecuaria Montelibano was unfairly penalized and held mercy to the whims of the FDA. After nine months of struggle, the loss of millions of dollars, penniless workers being deprived of a livelihood and perfectly good food needlessly wasted, we are, at last, thrilled to be able to report that the FDA has lifted its Import Alert. Included are slides of a PowerPoint presentation of the steps that this family company took to win FDA approval. We are running the whole presentation not because there is anything so shocking but because the nature of the changes made point to the fundamentally arbitrary nature of FDA decision-making. 12/25/2008

With FDA/CDC Protected By Sovereign Immunity, Compensation For Losses Looks Bleak Says Professor Richard Epstein asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to speak with University of Chicago Professor of Law Richard A. Epstein who describes Import Alerts as tantamount to defamation. Although he is not particularly optimistic about the chances for the produce industry to win compensation judicially, he opens the door a bit to individual companies that have been defamed by a false Import Alert. 7/25/2008Honduran Cantaloupe ‘Alert’ Still In Effect Long After Season Is Over… FDA Must Act NOW To Save Next Season argues that more than two months have past but the Import Alert is still in effect. Orders have to be placed now, yet how can they buy seed with no assurance their cantaloupes are even allowed in the US? A silent FDA, refusing to lift an irrelevant Import Alert or give reason why it must be sustained, is abusive of its powers. 5/23/2008

Pundit’s Mailbag — Cantaloupe Leaders Provide Roadmap To Safer Future reprinted letters from Stephen Patricio, Chairman, California Cantaloupe Advisory Board, Stephen Smith Chairman, California Melon Research Board and Trevor V. Suslow, Extension Research Specialist in Postharvest Quality and Safety at the University of California, Davis. The letters point out that it is simply imperative we get to the bottom of the cause of these food safety issues or a whole commodity will be at risk. 5/2/2008

Cantaloupe ‘Alert’ Reaches Guam; What’s An Island To Do? received a note that in distant Guam, the Department of Public Health learned cantaloupes from Agropecuaria Montelibano had found their way there and issued a public health warning. We asked Mira Slott, Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, to learn more about the impact of the alert from health officials and retailers. 4/30/2008

Fix Suggested For FDA’s Vigilante System Of Banning Product Through Import Alerts reviewed a Law Review article entitled, The Food and Drug Administration’s Import Alerts Appear to Be “Misbranded”, which was published in 2003 in the Food and Drug Law Journal, and written by Christine M. Humphrey. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to get an update from Christine and discuss the applicability of the thesis to the “import alert” associated with the cantaloupes from Honduras. 4/16/2008

Despite Flawed FDA, Cantaloupes Are Challenged acknowledged that much of our analysis has been focused on the FDA. Its procedures are disorganized. Its field staff often not knowledgeable, and its agents have been acting as bullies, intimidating people to announce recalls. It would be a horrible mistake for the industry to think this matter was just about FDA abuse. It is also about cantaloupes, which are particularly vulnerable in a way smooth-skinned melons are not. 4/11/2008

FDA Status Quo Cannot Stand reprints a letter by a man with empathy, gained through first-person experience, for those caught up in a food safety issue. There has to be more of a standard than that the FDA can destroy a company, unemploy thousands of people, crush a country and an industry. Also discusses parallels to the 1989 Chilean grape cyanide scare. 4/4/2008

Positive Test On Cantaloupes Causes More Confusion reports that the FDA has a positive test result for salmonella on some cantaloupes produced by Agropecuaria Montelibano. The results are from samples the FDA had taken for testing at a border crossing on March 12. The finding of salmonella is interesting because the serotype found was Salmonella Freetown, which is different from the Salmonella Litchfield strain that supposedly sickened 50 people. Includes excerpts from our interview with FDA spokesperson Sebastian Cianci. 4/1/2008

We Are All Affected By Cantaloupe Issue determined that the one thing we are certain of is that this saga is not much about cantaloupes or salmonella; it is about business, politics, loyalty and struggle. 3/28/2008

An Abuse Of Power: A Portrait Of The FDA As Bully …it is increasingly evident that the saga of Honduran cantaloupes has little to do with food safety and a lot to do with an FDA anxious to be seen as “doing something” in regard to food safety and “being tough” on imported food. We hope that when this is over, an investigation will be launched into how the FDA could behave in a manner so offensive to American ideals of fairness, justice and due process of law. 3/28/2008

Emergency Task Force Requested reported the Honduran Embassy in Washington recently hand-delivered a letter from the Honduran Secretary of Agriculture & Livestock to the US Secretary of Health & Human Services, the State Department and the National Security Council calling for an emergency task force composed jointly of officials from both countries. Honduras is hoping it can elevate the importance of lifting the import alert, but they must tread lightly. 3/28/2008

Letters From Warren And Molina Ask For Support And Patience… we’ve included public statements from various parties in our coverage of the import alert, but there are private letters as well, sometimes heartbreaking letters as proud men make a plea. The relationships touched by this particular situation are particularly longstanding and deep. We are fortunate to be able to share several with our readers. 3/28/2008

FDA Responds To Cantaloupe ‘Alert’ Questions sought a better understanding of what the FDA was doing with this “import alert” that implicated cantaloupe produced by Agropecuaria Montelibano. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to show FDA spokesperson Sebastian Cianci the statement issued by the grower and elicit a reaction. 3/28/2008

Honduras Cantaloupe Grower: Model Of Transparency made available a list of 38 documents provided by Agropecuaria Montelibano related to the FDA import alert in order to both assist those interested in further research in the area and to serve as an example for other companies to emulate. 3/28/2008

Central American’s Warren Speaks Out About Cantaloupe ‘Alert’ inquired as to how Michael Warren, President of Central American Produce, one of the long established and largest importing families that has a relationship with Agropecuaria Montelibano, was holding up under this difficult situation. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to speak with him, and she discovered that there is a certain arrogance in the way FDA operates that has to be dealt with. 3/28/2008

FDA’s Strong Arm Tactics addressed how the FDA is functioning as if it has the authority to order recalls. That is a power Congress has not elected to give them. But in company after company, we hear the situation being presented as “an offer you can’t refuse.” There is something quite wrong with this. 3/28/2008

Why The Delay? … delved into the questions the FDA never answers is why it is so slow at getting information out. These delays might endanger people’s lives. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more from George Manos, President of T.M. Kovacevich International, which released its own voluntary recall on March 25, and submitted its press release to the FDA, who didn’t distribute it until March 27. 3/28/2008

Media Misinformation And Confusion Over Cantaloupe ‘Alert’ recounts Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott’s conversation with William (Bil) Goldfield, Communications Manager for Dole Food Company Fresh Fruit and Vegetables, as to why plenty of consumer media outlets wound up reporting a Dole recall that was actually done in 2007! 3/28/2008

How Save Mart Was Affected By Cantaloupe ‘Alert’ shared Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott’s conversation with Alicia Rockwell, Director of Communications at Save Mart in Modesto, California, to get a sense of how retailers reacted to the events surrounding the FDA “import alert”. 3/28/2008

Consumer Guide To Cantaloupe Food Safety provides a comprehensive set of instructions for the safe preparation of cantaloupe from Trevor Suslow, Extension Postharvest Specialist for the Department of Plant Sciences, UC Davis. We were prompted by some of our retail readers who were looking to provide information they can pass on to their customers regarding how to reduce the risk of contamination on cantaloupes from any source. 3/28/2008

Science Behind Cantaloupe ‘Alert’ examined the science that surrounds this “import alert” from a conversation between Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott and Dr. Michael Doyle, Regents Professor of Food Microbiology at the Director Center for Food Safety, at the University of Georgia. The Professor’s explanation of the science is intriguing, but on the points specific to this alert, they still leave many questions unanswered. 3/28/2008

President Of Honduras Stands Up For Grower applauded President of Honduras Manuel Zelaya, one of the true heroes of the cantaloupe import alert situation, who is the only politician willing to state the obvious: Whatever was once true, the fruit today is as safe as any other fruit. 3/28/2008

FDA Fumbles Again On Cantaloupe ‘Alert’ reviewed FDA’s “import alert” on cantaloupes from Honduras and showed that the proper announcement would be to urge people not to consume melons imported in January and February, in case a few people have some in the freezer or have preserved the cantaloupe in some way — not to crush a company and a country and disrupt an industry for no purpose. 3/25/2008

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