WHEREAS, consumer confidence in the safety of food produced, processed and sold in New Jersey is vital to maintaining a robust food and agriculture complex in the state; and
WHEREAS, New Jersey’s food and agriculture complex constitutes an approximately $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 years 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 United States history, giving the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) direct control for the first time over food-safety activities on the farm, and the FDA is currently in the process of implementing the new regulatory provisions of that law; and
WHEREAS, food-safety protocols called for in that legislation are more easily met by larger farms found in other parts of the nation, but are a harder burden to meet for the typically smaller farms more common in New Jersey; and
WHEREAS, many of New Jersey’s smaller, family-owned farms, because they do not primarily sell directly 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, farms that do meet the Tester Amendment provisions are likely to be removed from the lists of suppliers to larger supermarkets, who are concerned that buying from exempted farms could reflect unfavorably on their stores’ food-safety reputations; 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 involves 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 are 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 97th State Agricultural Convention, assembled in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on January 18-19, 2012, hereby 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 continue engaging 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 Governor and the Legislature to investigate providing additional funding for third-party auditing, specifically though cost-sharing funds directed to producers, and for the Jersey Fresh quality grading programs to continue ensuring that New Jersey offers fresh, high-quality and safe foods to consumers.