WHEREAS, New Jersey’s food and agriculture complex constitutes a nearly $100 billion-a-year sector of the State’s economy, contributing significant economic and quality-of-life benefits to the State’s residents; and
WHEREAS, in recent months, food safety issues have risen to a new level of importance across the country, as Congress has attempted to address concerns about food-borne illnesses by passing the most sweeping food-safety legislation in U.S. history, giving the federal Food and Drug Administration direct control for the first time over food-safety activities on the farm; and
WHEREAS, food-safety protocols called for in that legislation are more easily met by large, corporate farms common to other parts of the nation, but are a harder burden to meet for the typically smaller, family-owned farms more common in New Jersey; and
WHEREAS, many of New Jersey’s smaller, family-owned farms, because they do not primarily sell direct to the consumer or because they sell more than $500,000 a year in farm-raised products, do not meet the “Tester Amendment” provisions for “small-farm” exemption from these new food safety protocols; and
WHEREAS, no New Jersey farms have been implicated in any of the food-borne illnesses of the past decade; and
WHEREAS, any connection of the State’s food-supply chain to illnesses has the effect of reducing consumer confidence in all food, including New Jersey-produced, processed or distributed food; and
WHEREAS, in recognition of that fact, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture created the Produce Safety Task Force, composed of government, academic and produce-sector representatives to ensure that the risk of produce-related foodborne illnesses is reduced as much as possible in New Jersey, and that information about foodborne illnesses linked to produce from other parts of the nation is accurately portrayed so as not to unnecessarily discourage the consumption of safe, healthy New Jersey-grown produce; and
WHEREAS, consumers have a right to expect safe food in the marketplace and any reduction in consumer confidence in New Jersey food can negatively impact the economic viability of New Jersey farmers producing food products; and
WHEREAS, the inclusion of Jersey Fresh quality grading standards and third-party auditing of farms are important parts of the New Jersey Department of Agriculture’s efforts to ensure fresh, high-quality and safe food reaches consumers; and
WHEREAS, it is important for the future of New Jersey agricultural operations producing food for fresh-market sale or for processing to maintain a high level of consumer confidence in the foods produced, processed and distributed here; and
WHEREAS, accidental contamination of food is only part of the risk to consumers, and we must all be vigilant about potential terrorist plots to intentionally contaminate our food supply, as evidenced by the federal government warning in December 2010 about plots to introduce poisons such as cyanide and ricin into salad bars and buffets; and
WHEREAS, the State of New Jersey, in recognition of such threats, has created a Food and Agriculture Sector Working Group on Food Defense that involved both government agencies and the private food and agriculture sector; and
WHEREAS, in recognition of agriculture’s significant role in that arena, two Department representatives and one New Jersey Farm Bureau representative are among the five “core members” of that working group, who ae active in setting the agenda for the group and communicating with the various arms of the private food and agriculture sector.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that we, the delegates to the 96th State Agricultural Convention, assembled in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, on February 8-9, 2011, support the continued efforts of the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, working alone or in concert with other State and Federal agencies, New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, agricultural groups and others in the market chain, to ensure the safety of New Jersey produced, processed or distributed food.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we urge the New Jersey Congressional Delegation, working in concert with the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, to engage in direct talks with those in the Food and Drug Administration responsible for writing the regulations that will implement the new food-safety legislation, with the goal of including in those regulations the necessary time frames and federal resources that New Jersey’s smaller, family-owned farms will need to meet new food-safety protocols.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we urge the Department, working in concert with the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) and the Communications Officers of the State Departments of Agriculture (COSDA), to continue pressing the FDA’s communications staff to share information about foodborne illnesses and product recalls with the state departments first, before announcing that information to the media, in order to give the state departments adequate time to prepare for follow-up inquiries from the media.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we support the work of the Produce Safety Task Force, created within the New Jersey Department of Agriculture and including representation from other State agencies, agricultural organizations, Rutgers University and the produce industry, to ensure that New Jersey’s fruit and vegetable producers, processors and distributors can and do meet the prevailing standards for food safety in New Jersey and the United States.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we urge the Produce Safety Task Force to consider issues of market sustainability and expansion of market opportunities, and in particular, to explore the marketing, public awareness of and public demand for New Jersey produce grown using integrated pest management (IPM) practices.
BE IT FUTHER RESOLVED, that we support the continued collaboration between the New Jersey Department of Agriculture and Rutgers Cooperative Extension to educate the produce industry in food safety and the preparation for third-party audits.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we support the continued efforts of the New Jersey Department of Agriculture to educate the public about the high standards of food safety being met by the produce industry in New Jersey.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we support continued use of the Jersey Fresh quality grading standards and third-party auditing as components of a comprehensive food-safety strategy.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we urge the Legislature and the Governor to provide additional funding for third-party auditing and for the Jersey Fresh quality grading programs to continue ensuring that New Jersey offers fresh, high-quality and safe foods to consumers.
Food safety issues have taken center stage in Americans’ ongoing attempts to eat healthier. Just as the nation was awakening to the benefits of eating fresh, locally produced fruits, vegetables and other agricultural products, a series of food-borne illnesses related to fresh produce raised health concerns among consumers.
These included an E. coli outbreak in West Coast spinach in the fall of 2006; a salmonella outbreak in 2008 that first was blamed on tomatoes by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which later changed its determination to be peppers from Mexico; a massive recall of peanut-based products from a Southern company that revealed lax inspection of the company’s facilities; and most recently a massive egg recall related to Midwestern farms over salmonella concerns. It is important to note that no New Jersey farms have been implicated in these food-borne illnesses.
With these mounting recalls and illnesses, Congress in 2009 and 2010 focused on the growing public call for enhanced food-safety rules. The result was the Food Safety Modernization Act, passed in late-2010 and signed into law in early-2011. The most significant aspect of the act for the agricultural community was that it gave the FDA the power to enforce food safety on farms for the first time. This has raised concerns among farmers, especially those on smaller, family-owned farms that typify those in New Jersey, that the FDA would quickly institute requirements that they could not afford to meet in a short time frame.
That concern was addressed somewhat in the Act, under what became referred to as the “Tester Amendment,” for its sponsor, Sen. Jon Tester of Montana. The amendment exempts “small farms,” from the Act’s requirements. However, those farms must sell less than $500,000 worth of products a year and must sell more than 50 percent of their products direct to the public. In New Jersey, where prices are higher and where opportunities abound to sell to the retail market instead of, or in addition to, directly to the public, smaller farms can easily exceed one or both of those limits.
Immediately after the 2006 spinach E. coli outbreak, the Department established the Produce Safety Task Force, consisting of representation from the Department, the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, Rutgers University’s Food Policy Institute and all levels of the produce industry, from the farm to retail and restaurants. The group works to ensure that, in the event of a food-borne illness outbreak that impacts the produce industry, accurate information about the origins of the affected produce is distributed to the public. It also has focused on training New Jersey farmers, approximately 2,000 to date, in the basics of food safety.