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Pundit’s Mailbag — FDA’s
‘Unconscionable’ Acts

Our extensive coverage of the Salmonella Saintpaul Tomato Outbreak has brought many letters including those from organizations not at all involved with tomatoes:

I, for one, just wanted to thank you for keeping a stern dialogue in the Pundit and working to get the attention of FDA. It is, you are right, unconscionable for a Federal agency to act with so little care for those farmers who work so very hard.

Seems it should be easy to preclude growing areas that are not suspect in a crisis and let those folks collect the efforts from their hard work. Keep up the good reporting.

— Keith Mathews, Executive Director
Yakima Valley Growers-Shippers Association
Yakima, Washington

We appreciate the kind words Keith, and we agree that there was simply no reason for FDA to be so slow in identifying areas that weren’t even in production at the time of the outbreak.

We also think, though, that the FDA has a responsibility that goes beyond identifying non-implicated areas, and that is to establish and maintain consumer confidence in the production that is available to consumers.

It does producers little good to be “allowed to ship” if consumers are so petrified that they are unwilling to buy. For that matter, it needs to be recognized that on a perishable item such as a tomato, just a tiny drop in demand can lead to a catastrophic drop in prices and thus returns to growers.

FDA should have no trouble saying something such as this:

“FDA is not aware of any retailer or restaurant selling any tomatoes except for those we have listed as “not associated” with the outbreak. In fact, because the list was derived from facts on the ground regarding when different growing areas started production, we are not aware that any of the areas which were producing tomatoes when this outbreak started are still producing.

So, although our investigation will continue while we track things back and try to find the root cause of this particular problem, as far as consumers go, the outbreak is over, and all the tomatoes on the market are not implicated and are as safe as ever.”

Utilizing words such as “ongoing” is irresponsible and bound to cause consumer confusion. Both farmers and consumers deserve better from their government.

Many thanks to Keith and the Yakima Valley Growers-Shippers Association for the note.

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