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Food safety, bi-national cooperation key topics at fourth annual ATPC

TUBAC, AZ — About 200 produce professionals gathered at the Tubac Golf Resort & Spa, here, March 12-13 for the fourth annual America Trades Produce Conference, where they participating in an exchange of ideas and networking opportunities designed to facilitate the flow of fruits and vegetables across the southern border of the United States.

1615Rising-StarRicardo Crisantes (right), vice president of sales and marketing for Wholesum Harvest in Nogales, AZ, received the Rising Star Award from The Produce News, presented by Tad Thompson, Arizona editor.The conference is co-hosted by the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, located in Nogales, and the Texas International Produce Association, based in Mission, TX. The meeting is held in Arizona and Texas on alternating years.

The comprehensive group of attendees included Mexican growers, U.S. produce distributors, government representatives and other leaders from Mexico, Canada and the United States. Transportation companies, produce and custom house brokers were also part of the meeting.

A tour of Nogales' Mariposa Port of Entry was the first agenda item for the conference. This new $220 million crossing point between the United States and Mexico is in full use, although the finishing touches will be completed later this year.

On a typical day in the peak season, about 1,200 trucks carrying produce cross into the United States. Cargo lanes for trucks have been doubled to eight lanes from four to accommodate the increasing traffic. Mariposa will be officially turned over to U.S. Customs & Border Protection on Aug. 14. The property is owned by the U.S. General Services Administration, which is the port's landlord.

Although a variety of topics were discussed, the conference agenda was heavily focused on food-safety matters between the United States and Mexico. National leaders from the FDA and their Mexican counterparts indicated that they are working very closely to establish consistent standards so the Mexican industry will be prepared to conform to upcoming Food Safety Modernization Act.

In a March 13 presentation, Mike Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine for the FDA, indicated that "in no uncertain terms we are committed partners with Mexico. This is not a new relationship, but historically there has been more focus on reacting rather than preventing" food-safety problems. Now the focus is on prevention "and we are extremely thankful to have a strong and committed partners at the leadership" of corresponding Mexican national agencies.

Taylor said by virtue of the Food Safety Modernization Act efforts, Mexico will have independent but complementary on-site verifications of its own and in conjunction with FDA work.

Taylor's remarks made a strong emphasis of the fact that the U.S. Congress, in writing the mandate of the Food Safety Modernization Act, specified that the FDA would work with the food industry to create a practical law. Taylor said this cooperation is not only a legal directive, but it is the only feasible way of accomplishing the common interest of protecting consumer health.

Taylor noted the diversity of the produce industry makes food-safety matters very complex. He said FDA officials have traveled a great deal to meet the produce industry and visit its farms and facilities.

Industry feedback on the Food Safety Modernization Act was also an ongoing process at the America Trades Conference, via various panel discussions.

At the meeting, The Produce News presented Ricardo Crisantes, vice president of sales and marketing for Wholesum Harvest, based in Nogales, AZ, with the "Rising Star Award."

The award was conceived by the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, the Texas International Produce Association and The Produce News in 2012. The Rising Star Award recognizes a young industry member who has demonstrated leadership and passion at his or her company as well as in the industry at large.