READING, August 24, 2011 – –  Local and state agriculture professionals today traded ideas and shared concerns and goals regarding food safety and agriculture profitability in Pennsylvania with the state Senate Democratic Policy Committee at a roundtable discussion at Penn State University, Berks Campus.

“Protecting Pennsylvania’s food supply is of paramount importance, not only to maintaining the profitability of the state’s agricultural industry, but to the health and safety of Pennsylvania citizens,” said committee Chair Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton/Lehigh).  “I am happy to have had this opportunity to meet with top agriculture and food safety experts in the state to discuss ways to keep Pennsylvania consumers safe from food-borne illnesses that threaten the health of the public and the economic development of the state.”

The discussion centered on how to keep food safe and Pennsylvania agriculture profitable.  Topics included legislation regarding food safety regulations, particularly how they pertain to fresh produce, farmers, and farmers markets; a discussion on Good Agricultural Practices (GAP); a discussion on food-borne illnesses and the most common causes of the illnesses; and information on how Pennsylvania producers are keeping food safe, as well as the challenges the industry faces regarding food safety.

“We have all read about the series of recent incidents regarding food-borne illnesses throughout the nation and here in Pennsylvania.  As both a lawmaker and a consumer, this greatly concerns me,” said state Sen. Judy Schwank (D-Berks).  “It was very beneficial for my Senate colleagues to join me here in Berks County to discuss this critical issue.  We must understand how these illnesses spread and eliminate that problem from the food supply chain.  It is important to our citizens and to the economic welfare of the state, as agriculture is our leading industry.”

Schwank, who serves as Democratic Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, requested this meeting in an effort to examine current policy on food safety and to discuss concerns the industry and the public have regarding the issue.

The informal roundtable discussion featured experts and educators from agriculture, academia, health and the food industry.

“This roundtable discussion is a step in ensuring that our current food safety laws are working to keeping consumers safe,” said Democratic Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny).  “Senate Democrats are dedicated to protecting the health and welfare of our citizens and we thank the panelists for their expert input on this issue.  As we move forward in this process, it is our hope that we can rely on these experts to help guide future policy on this matter.”

State Sen. John Wozniak (D-Cambria/Somerset/Centre/Clinton/Clearfield) was also on hand at the event.

“It is important that we all work together — the legislature, the industry, and the public — to protect against food-borne illnesses,” Wozniak said.  “This discussion was a great opportunity to begin open dialogue on food safety issues.”

Panelists included Dr. Lydia Johnson, director of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Bureau of Food Safety and Laboratory Services; James Weaver, GAP-certified farmer at Meadow View Farm; Dr. Hassan Gourama, associate professor of food science at PSU Berks; Gary Zanecosky, director of quality at Giorgio Foods, Inc.; Brian Snyder, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture; and Brent Ennis, Southeast district executive director of the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

Johnson stated that the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture is committed to protecting Pennsylvania citizens from food-borne illness.

“It is essential that we protect the citizens of Pennsylvania,” Johnson said.  “Because contamination can happen at every step in the food process, we must have consistent regulations.”

Weaver expressed concerns that cuts in funding make it difficult for farmers to comply with regulation requirements.

“Cuts in funding hurt farmers,” Weaver said.  “It makes the process progressively harder as time goes on.  I fear there will come a point in time where it is too hard for farmers.”

Gourama discussed the importance of researching food-borne illnesses and their causes, but also stressed the importance of funding this research.

“We must improve detection methods to determine where contamination is coming from,” Gourama said.  “Researching this issue takes money, but it is harder to get funding due to the economy.”

Zanecosky stressed the importance of collaboration between the agricultural industry and academia.

“In order to stay in this business, you have to be on the cutting edge,” Zanecosky said.  “Academia is the cutting edge.”

Snyder stressed the need for assistance from the legislature to keep food safe and agriculture profitable.

“There are four things that the legislature can do to assist farmers,” Snyder said.  “Provide access to capital and quality insurance; clear, flexible and consistent regulations; tax code adjustments, and public support.”


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