November 9, 2010

Cornell Enters Into $1.15 Million Partnership With FDA and USDA

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The Food and Drug Administration and United States Department of Agriculture have entered into a $1.15 million partnership with Cornell to help lead a nationwide educational outreach program –– called the Produce Safety Alliance –– that will work to instruct America’s farmers about a new FDA regulation. The regulation, which will seek to reduce the risk of food-borne illnesses, will be announced sometime within the next year, according to Douglas Karas, a press officer for the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition at the FDA.

Cornell was chosen because of the University’s 12-year-old Good Agricultural Practices program, according to Betsy Bihn, GAPs program coordinator. The GAPs program currently distributes basic scientific produce safety information to farmers across 26 states. The PSA will take the GAPs program one step further by preparing growers for the new regulation and providing a platform for economic, environmental and academic parties to collaborate on the best ways to educate farmers about safe growing practices, Bihn said.

The concept for the PSA originated after the Pew Charitable Trust, a non-governmental organization, conducted listening tours with farmers across the country. Pew relayed feedback from these tours to the FDA, which allowed them to hear grower’s thoughts on FDA policies, according to Leanne Skelton, the senior policy analyst for produce safety in the FDA.

“We kept on hearing the same responses, growers saying, ‘I want to do the right thing, but you have to provide the right resources,’“ Skelton said.

In order to achieve the ultimate goal of reducing food-borne illnesses, the PSA is focusing on the concerns of the FDA, namely, “the four Ws: workers, wildlife, water use and waste.”

The PSA’s approaches to education include establishing an online database of comprehensive instructions on proper safe-growing techniques, creating a network of extension produce educators, and implementing programs to train farmers in person, according to Bihn.

The body responsible for deciding exactly what information is disseminated to growers will be the Produce Safety Alliance steering committee. The steering committee will be composed of interest groups ranging greatly in knowledge and occupation, including representatives from other land grant universities, farmers, shippers, the Natural Resource Conservation Service and the FDA, Skelton said.

Currently, Bihn and Prof. Robert Gravani, food science, are the only University personnel responsible for the $1.15 million partnership, but Bihn said two more extension educators would eventually be hired to work on the project.

“We are hoping to collaborate with educators across the country and reach out to universities nationwide,” Bihn said.

Original Author: Shane Dunau