FDA Squashes Tomato Profits

U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., asks House leadership to compensate tomato growers who suffered financial setbacks at FDA blamed that crop for this summer's salmonella outbreak. And, a Georgia tomato grower speaks at a Congressional hearing.

Published on: Sep 24, 2008

Greg Murray of Bainbridge testified at a Congressional hearing Sept. 18 on the impact of this summer's salmonella outbreak on the Georgia Tomato Industry and Georgia Agriculture.

Murray is but on of the growers who should be compensated for the losses caused by the Food and Drug Administration's error in reporting tomatoes caused the salmonella outbreak.

U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., this week formally asked House leadership to consider providing $100 million to cover crop losses resulting from what many believe was the FDA's mishandling of the salmonella outbreak.

"We cannot have another summer like the past one. As long as this country produces a domestic supply of food and fiber, we will have incidences of contamination every now and then. But we cannot and must not allow those relatively rare situations to affect entire unrelated industries ever again," Bishop says.

Murray spoke at a hearing before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture. The hearing covered several food safety-related topics, including shortcomings within the Food and Drug Administration that initially suggested tomatoes were the cause of the deadly outbreak. The outbreak, which eventually was linked to Mexican-grown jalapeƱo peppers, cost Georgia tomato farmers an estimated $13.9 million, according to Bishop, a member of the subcommittee.

"In 25 years of growing tomatoes, our farm has experienced floods, hail storms, freezes, droughts, poor yields, poor markets, disease and insect infestations and many other difficulties," Murray testified. "But the one thing we have never had to face was a public hysteria attack caused by the media and agencies of the federal government. No amount of planning could have prepared us for what we faced this June as we started harvesting our spring crop of tomatoes."

Murray pointed to certain aspects of the situation that prolonged and worsened effects on Georgia's tomato farmers.

"Each day the CDC and FDA were announcing more salmonella cases had been reported. The messages were confusing," said Murray, who grows 80 acres of tomatoes annually. "Consumers could not understand the reported salmonella cases were from product consumed three to five weeks ago, not product currently on the market. So the safest thing for a consumer or a food outlet was to just not purchase or consume tomatoes."

Murray also made several recommendations regarding how to prevent another "fiasco", including creating a food safety program that considers regional production differences and product risk levels, and a plan of action that demands state and federal agencies work together with the agriculture and food industry on future responses. He also asked for partial compensation for growers and shippers who suffered financially

The Committee now hopes to begin the process of examining FDA's current food safety guidelines, according to Bishop. In particular, he says, the Committee will focus on how, during outbreaks of food-borne illness, potential sources of contamination can be narrowed to prevent more financially devastating false-alarm recalls.