We just received news of a really great Christmas present. With the first installation in March of 2008, we’ve now run twenty-three articles on the Import Alert the FDA imposed on Agropecuaria Montelibano. It is a horribly sad and unfair story in which one company was unfairly penalized and held mercy to the whims of the FDA.
Their treatment is a black mark on our country. You can review the coverage we’ve provided here:
After nine months of struggle, the loss of millions of dollars, penniless workers being deprived of a livelihood and perfectly good food needlessly wasted, we are, at last, thrilled to be able to report that the FDA has lifted its Import Alert and that the first five containers of cantaloupes have had all holds lifted and Chiquita, as the first receiver, is selling the fruit already.
Below you will see the slides of a PowerPoint presentation of the steps that the family took to win FDA approval. We are running the whole presentation not because there is anything so shocking but because the nature of the changes made point to the fundamentally arbitrary nature of FDA decision-making.
If you review the slides, you will see that all the changes made are specific to this particular producer, no “finding” has been made that others have to follow the same practices. Two examples:
- There were power lines that crossed the fields and, perhaps, some birds sat on the power lines and did their business. So they had to move the power lines.
Note that the FDA never tied any contamination to these power lines and it is not obvious that birds can’t do their business on the fly but most of all note this: The FDA has not issued a regulation or even a recommendation that growing food under power lines is dangerous and should be banned. Every other farm in the world can keep growing food under power lines, it is this one farm that cannot do so.
- The FDA thought that river water may have been a problem, though all tests were negative. Still, they were not going to lift the Import Alert until the farm agreed to drill wells.
Once again, this is completely arbitrary. FDA has not “made a finding” or issued a “regulation” or even made a “recommendation” that nobody should grow food in river water or even that this particular river is banned. Nor did the FDA ever tie a problem to the river. They just used their power in an arbitrary manner to impose on this farm burdens not imposed on any other.
Most of the changes the farm made at the behest of the FDA were good ideas; now the FDA is referring to it as a model for Central America and beyond. But it is not the place of the FDA to use the power of banning product — the power of bankrupting people — to compel companies to become models.
If the FDA has good science to justify a proposal, it should issue a regulation and go through the whole public comment period so that the science can be scrutinized. It also should articulate broad-based standards. Either you can grow food or melons or cantaloupes specifically under power lines or you can’t. But the FDA should not have the power to withhold entry into the market if there is no violation.
Agropecuaria Montelibano was already one of the top farms in Central America. It had Tesco’s tough-to-get Nature’s Choice certification and other tough audits. Now it exceeds even those standards. We just hope all these extra expenses win it a market that will pay enough to justify the expenses.
Please view the slides below. We wish the people at Agropecuaria Montelibano an especially joyous Christmas and a very happy, healthy and, after what they went through this year, PROSPEROUS New Year.