SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, TX -- As is increasingly the case these days when
producers and purveyors of produce gather, food safety was an inescapable
topic on the opening day of the 2010 Texas Produce Association convention,
set to run Aug. 11-13 at the Sheraton Beach Hotel, here.
After a kickoff golf tournament Wednesday morning that drew dozens of
participants despite temperatures well over 100 degrees and a low-key
welcoming reception later that evening at a well-known South Padre hangout,
Texas produce grower-shippers put their 10-gallon work hats on Thursday
morning to tackle the topic of food safety.
About three-quarters of the estimated 250-300 convention attendees packed
a conference room Thursday morning for a panel discussion on food safety
moderated by Drew DeBerry, deputy commissioner of the Texas Department
Mr. DeBerry told the attendees that "the Texas economy is faring better than
anywhere else in the nation." Low taxes and a predictable regulatory structure
are part of the reason for that -- and part of the reason for the state's rising
prominence in the national produce picture.
Texas in recent years has led the nation in job creation, Mr. DeBerry said. Part
of that is due to the Lone Star State’s $106 billion agriculture industry, which
represents 10 percent of the Texas economy and provides one-in-seven jobs
“Texas leads in things we get involved in,” Mr. DeBerry said. “We don’t want to
get involved in things we can’t lead in.”
That being the case, Mr. DeBerry said that Texas expects to be a leader in the
area of food safety. The topic is of primary importance to the state, since it
shares its border with some of Mexico’s more significant growing areas.
Partnerships and trading relations arising from that juxtaposition promise to
strengthen Texas’ role in the produce business in coming years.
Mexican imports already account for 60 percent of the state’s produce
revenues. With the U.S. Food & Drug Administration and Congress promising
that imported produce will be held to the same standards as domestic when
new regulations come about, food safety takes on added importance in Texas.
Michelle Smith, senior policy analyst with the FDA’s Office of Food Safety in
Washington, DC, told attendees at the convention’s keynote luncheon that it
is the agency’s intention to “apply regulations to fresh produce regardless of
where it is produced. The mechanism for enforcement may be difficult … but
there has been a huge increase in imported food and our regulatory
responsibilities need to shift along with that.”
Dr. Smith said that it has become apparent in recent days that the agency will
not have its new produce regulations ready for review before the end of 2010.
She said htat the initial regulation will be published some time in 2011, but
she could not be specific. Regardless of the date, there will be an opportunity
for further industry review and comment before the new regulations become
Meanwhile, Congress is racing to pass food safety legislation before the end
of 2010, said panelist David Gombas, senior vice president of food safety and
technology for United Fresh Produce Association. “The time is just about upon
us now,” he said. “When Congress gets quiet, they’re getting serious, and
they’ve been quiet for awhile now.”
HR 2749 -- the Food Safety Enhancement Act -- was fast-tracked in the
House of Representatives in June 2009. A similar bill in the Senate, SB 510,
was approved in March 2009. That legislation came out of committee in
November, “then everything went silent,” Dr. Gombas said, adding that in
recent days he has seen several e-mails indicating that SB 510 is moving
again, and that “we expect some additional activity shortly, and we expect it
to pass before the end of the year.”
Following the keynote luncheon, the convention expo floor opened.
Attendees browsed booths from dozens of exhibitors before many headed to
an afternoon session on the impact of health care reform on owners of
After all the work, the attendees planned to cut loose Thursday evening with a
casino night and silent auction before official business resumed Friday
morning with a "Tribute to the Produce Industry Leaders" awards breakfast at
8 a.m. The expo floor was to reopen at 9 a.m., and the annual board meetings
of the Texas Produce Association and the Texas Vegetable Association were
scheduled for mid-morning.