Since the FDA imposed an “Import Alert” on Honduran cantaloupe melons from Agropecuaria Montelibano, we have paid careful attention to the matter.
That Import Alert was imposed on March 21, 2008, which means more than two months have past. In fact, the season is now over, the fields are empty, and the equipment is scrubbed.
The FDA and CDC sent a team down to Honduras and found only the kind of trivial things that could be found on almost any farm. They certainly never found any evidence that tied Agropecuaria Montelibano to anyone’s illness.
Still, Agropecuaria Montelibano responded promptly, agreed to do everything the FDA requested, and the company’s compliance has been confirmed by the authorities in Honduras as well as through photographs, affidavits, etc.
So why is the Import Alert still in effect?
The specifics of the case are poignant: On the flimsiest of grounds, the FDA has crushed a company, deprived thousands of poor people of their livelihood and hurt a small country.
It is not clear anything was accomplished by this, certainly not that the food supply is any safer.
In a note of irony, Tesco, whose Nature’s Choice program is widely perceived as among the toughest in the world, just renewed the farm’s Certificate of Conformity with its Nature’s Choice standard. You can see the certificate here.
So the bizarre effect of FDA’s actions is easily seen. During this period of the FDA Import Alert, the US consumer has been deprived of the opportunity to eat cantaloupes that are certified to one of the toughest standards in the world. But other cantaloupes, not certified to this rigorous standard, have been freely available.
How that can possibly serve the interests of advancing food safety is unknown.
Still, this is all in the past, the damage is done; we need to look toward tomorrow.
If the FDA doesn’t lift its Import Alert soon, there won’t be any tomorrow for this farm.
The season is over, which means it is time to start buying seed and other implements of production. These come from Israel, Spain, Mexico, the US and many other places. Getting them to Honduras can take months. So orders have to be placed now.
Yet how can they buy seed with no assurance their cantaloupes are even allowed in the US?
If the FDA does not lift the Import Alert immediately, it will foreclose the possibility of there being a next season.
As Americans, we find this deeply disturbing. Food safety law should not, in the hands of the FDA, be some kind of license to destroy businesses and workers.
Our Declaration of Independence pointed out that “…a decent respect for the opinions of mankind…” compelled our founding fathers to declare publicly the reasons for their actions.
A silent FDA, refusing to lift an irrelevant Import Alert or give reason why it must be sustained, is abusive of its powers.
The Import Alert should be lifted immediately.