OFPA reviews food regulations, health issues

April 5, 2013
Contact Information:

Renee Threlfall, Ozark Food Processors Association
479-575-4607 / ofpa@uark.edu

Dave Edmark, Agricultural Communication Services
479-575-6940 / dedmark@uark.edu

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SPRINGDALE, Ark. – The federal farm bill, which has been a legislative vehicle for food-related provisions, has been enacted every five to seven years since the 1930s but lately has become increasingly difficult to pass, Harrison Pittman told the Ozark Food Processors Association convention on April 3.

Pittman, the director of the National Agricultural Law Center at the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, addressed the OFPA’s 107th Annual Convention and Exposition with the theme of “Food Regulations in a Changing World.” Pittman noted that legislation affecting biotechnology and safety standards for produce growers would usually be in the farm bill. The last farm bill was passed in 2008 and expired in September 2012. Some of its provisions have been extended while Congress considers a new bill.

Congress passed a six-month federal spending bill to fund the government until October. Pittman said that legislation includes new funds designed to prevent furloughs for employees of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service. It also has a provision directing the secretary of agriculture to grant temporary permits to plant genetically modified seeds at a producer’s request in the event of litigation impacting genetically modified seeds.

USDA implemented rules mandated by the 2008 farm bill requiring country-of-origin labeling (COOL) for red meats, but Canada and Mexico lodged an objection with the World Trade Organization. The WTO ruled that COOL violated the organization’s standards and discriminated against imported cattle. The U.S. lost its appeal and last month USDA issued a proposed rule to comply with the WTO decision, Pittman said.

The Food Safety Modernization Act, which was signed into law in January 2011, authorizes the Food and Drug Administration to propose rules that govern industry practices. Lynn Hodges, a former food safety specialist for FDA who now works for HACCP Consulting Group, said the principles for the law’s new food safety rules are that they should be science based, risk based and flexible enough to provide additional time for small farms to comply. The proposed rule on produce safety would cover farms that grow, harvest, pack or hold most produce in a raw or natural state. It would not cover produce for personal or on-farm consumption or farms with less than $25,000 in annual sales.

Food processing facilities would be required to implement a written food safety plan focusing on hazard analysis preventive controls, monitoring procedures, corrective actions and verification, Hodges said. The rules would apply to domestic or imported food. The law also gives FDA authority to suspend a processing plant’s registration and implement a mandatory product recall if the company does not cease distribution of a product in question.

The law requires food imported from abroad to be as safe as domestic food and importers are now responsible for ensuring that their foreign suppliers have adequate preventive controls in place, Hodges noted. Relying on inspections at ports of entry cannot handle the increase in food imports, he said, so the FDA is establishing offices in foreign countries to provide assistance regarding food to be exported to the U.S.

Noting that one-third of American children are overweight or obese, Jill Parker of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation told the convention that research suggests healthier school environments can result in increased academic achievement. Parker, the Alliance’s national nutrition advisor, said healthy meals at school combat obesity, fight hunger, improve students’ nutrient intake, improve test scores and provide opportunities for students to learn about nutrition.

The Alliance’s program for healthy schools works with schools to create a culture of healthy eating in which physical activity is the norm. The Alliance offers train-the-trainer sessions to schools and also provides web-based resources. “It’s really a road map for change,” she said. School-based health interventions can also enable students to avoid diseases and injuries, Hodges added.

Kent Juliot, ConAgra Foods vice president-quality, discussed the importance of food processors using one program worldwide to obtain ingredients for their food products. ConAgra evaluates its ingredients and packaging materials based on 11 categories of risk in food safety and the supply chain and then develops an overall risk ranking for an ingredient supplier. Food safety, Juliot said, is not a competitive advantage but a point of entry.

Mark Cochran, UA System Vice President for Agriculture, welcomed the audience to the convention and noted the university’s food science department faculty is making vital contributions in research to the kind of issues faced by the food processors.

The OFPA convention opened April 2 with its annual golf tournament held at Shadow Valley Country Club in Rogers. Despite inclement weather, 52 golfers played in the event with proceeds benefiting the OFPA scholarship fund. Scholarships sponsored by OFPA and its members were awarded to seven students. In addition, 14 students competed in a scientific poster competition. The convention had 54 exhibitors and over 300 attendees.