(April 27) PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — Expect more collaboration among the Food and Drug Administration, grower-shippers, retailers and everyone along the produce supply chain.

That was the consensus of speakers taking part in the Produce Safety Summit on April 25, the first day of United FreshTech 2007.

Andrew von Eschenbach, commissioner of the FDA, said his agency had begun a modernization that would make it much more involved in the produce industry than as only a regulatory agency.

“In doing so, the FDA will be much more proactive in developing products at the front end,” von Eschenbach said.

The FDA will more strongly emphasize scientific research into improved field analysis, von Eschenbach said. An increased emphasis on science would be reflected in guidance developed for various parts of the industry. The directives are meant to be more dynamic and fluid than the formal rule-making process, he said.

Tom Stenzel, president of United Fresh, warned that even the FDA’s guidances had the impact of regulatory mandates regardless of foregoing the formal rule-making process. He read from guidances already written by FDA that spelled out the agency’s authority to take action against companies not complying with the stipulations.

“I think it’s mandatory now,” Stenzel said.

It is important to embrace government regulation, he said, because the industry can’t stop at just driving down the risk of pathogens in produce.

“We also have to endorse federal government oversight in order to maintain the public’s trust,” Stenzel said. “In an environment where science tells us there is no such thing as zero risk, the public has to trust somebody.”