SPARKS: 'SLOW' FDA RESPONSE HURTS TOMATO FARMERS
MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Agriculture commissioners from seven Southern states, including Alabama, called an emergency meeting Tuesday in response to the recent outbreak of salmonella in raw tomatoes.
Alabama Commissioner Ron Sparks joined with commissioners from Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, West Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina -- all of whom are attending the Southern Association of State Departments of Agriculture (SASDA) meeting in Lexington, Ky. -- during a conference call with the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to voice concerns about the information provided to the public about the tainted tomato issue.
A statement issued through Sparks' office said that although Alabama and other states have been placed on the FDA's "safe to eat" list, the delay in reporting the states that were safe caused damage to the industry on a national level, particularly to those tomato farmers in states not affected by the outbreak.
Sparks' statement said some states have reported that the process for getting on the list was stifled and prolonged unnecessarily by red tape even though their harvest season had been reported and the state was clearly salmonella free.
"The lack of action by the FDA has been devastating to farmers across the South because people depend on this for their livelihood," said Sparks. "When a national story comes out about bad tomatoes, it is important to let the public know that our farmers' products are safe. It is irresponsible not to make it clear. The Departments of Agriculture across the country are the FDA's eyes and ears on the ground and can support them, but if we don't have good communication, we will have a problem like this."
Alabama's tomato harvest season began this week and the tomatoes are not part of the salmonella outbreak, but some buyers are still hesitant to purchase any tomatoes from states that are not on the FDA "safe to eat" list.
The "safe to eat" list is updated periodically and can be found on the FDA Web site: www.fda.gov/oc/opacom/hottopics/tomatoes.html.