Florida, Georgia Ag Commissioner’s take on government, others may follow

July 25, 2008

Florida tomato growers want compensation from the federal government for millions of dollars lost because of an investigation that originally focused on raw tomatoes after a salmonella outbreak in parts of the country this spring. Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson travels to Washington next week to seek changes in the process so an entire industry is not unnecessarily tainted.

“Public health and safety is of course, the top priority, but we also have to look out for growers who are losing tens of millions of dollars unnecessarily,” said Liz Compton, spokeswoman for Bronson’s office. “We’re going to have food-borne illnesses in the future, but that doesn’t mean an entire industry should have to suffer.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration inspected Florida tomatoes in June and found no problems, but the investigation virtually killed the market for fresh tomatoes.

For now, the FDA is warning people not to eat raw jalapeno peppers after one pepper at a Texas food distribution center tested positive for the strain of salmonella linked to the outbreak.

State Department of Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin is ready to take on the federal government over jalapeño peppers.

If Georgia-grown jalapeño peppers prove free of the salmonella strain that has caused the widespread outbreak, Irvin said he will ask supermarkets to put Georgia’s peppers back on their shelves.

Such a request would run counter to the decision Monday by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that raw jalapeño and serrano peppers should not be sold or served, and instead discarded.

The FDA’s advisement came after their researchers found a single pepper carrying the Salmonella Saintpaul strain in a distribution center in McAllen, Texas.

“I don’t want to be too harsh on Food and Drug, but we think that they’re overreacting,” Irvin said Wednesday.

Irvin has sent agriculture department staffers to collect samples from Georgia farms. Results should be available by Monday at the latest, spokesman Arty Schronce said.

“We feel that ours will be safe to consume,” Irvin said.

Georgia isn’t alone in its desire to push back on the FDA’s pepper warning. Other states have similar frustrations as Irvin, who said he participated in a conference call Tuesday with other state agriculture heads and said “there was great concern all the way from New Jersey to the West Coast.”

“The FDA decision will cause a significant negative economic impact on our state’s jalapeño pepper industry, in the same fashion as it did on our tomato industry,” South Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture Hugh Weathers said in a statement given Wednesday.

Sources: forbes.com,
http://www.ajc.com/metro/content/health/stories/2008/07/23/jalapenos_push_back.html

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