From the Tractor
by Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler
In August, we hosted the 4th annual AgFIRST! symposium and I was very pleased with the program and turnout. Sometimes you get lucky when you start planning these events. The timeliness of this year’s topics couldn’t have been better.
The focus of this year’s symposium was food safety, and we had asked Dr. David Acheson, an associate commissioner in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, to be our guest speaker.
No one could have known that in the months leading up to the symposium, our country would experience a widespread salmonella outbreak and Dr. Acheson would be a central figure in trying to find its source.
I know many of you have heard me say it again and again, but food safety is critical to each one of us, and each of us has a role to play in ensuring a safe food supply.
Anywhere along the path from the field to the fork, food can become contaminated with bacteria or pathogens that can cause human illness.
As consumers, we all have to be careful when we handle and prepare food to be sure we don’t accidentally create problems for ourselves.
We are very fortunate to have one of the safest food supplies in the world, but we must remain diligent in our efforts. We live in a global economy, which gives us access to foods from all over the world. In addition, food raised right here in our state goes to markets around the globe, and our trade partners expect high-quality food free of harmful pathogens.
Food safety efforts are proactive ways to help protect these important markets for farmers and agribusiness companies.
During the salmonella outbreak, I encouraged consumers to look for North Carolina-grown products, which had not been implicated in any way with the food safety issue. As consumers we have to be smart and make decisions based on common sense and reason.
If you know a farmer down the road grew jalapeno peppers and tomatoes and those commodities have not come in contact with produce from Mexico or another state or country that is being looked at as a possible source of an outbreak, then it is fairly safe to assume those vegetables would be OK to consume.
The idea of buying locally produced foods was also part of the AgFIRST! program. Gary Gay with our Food Distribution Division updated attendees about the Farm to School program, which is going strong this year. We are continuing to work with child nutrition directors across the state to get North Carolina fruits and vegetables on the school lunch lines. This is a great program and it benefits farmers, kids and the North Carolina economy.
As a department, we remain committed to food safety. Several of our divisions provide regulatory oversight on food safety, including Food and Drug Protection, Meat and Poultry Inspection, Veterinary, and Structural Pest Control and Pesticides.
But as discussed at the symposium, food safety efforts require a holistic approach and not just the efforts of the state or federal government. I am glad we were able to bring together so many of the partners in these efforts. The timing was perfect and I believe the symposium served to build better communication between the various partners.