(April 3, 2:38 p.m.) Two fresh produce industry shippers told the House Agriculture Committee about industry food safety efforts, but both said help is needed from the government to provide oversight and equivalency between domestic produce and imports.

After the April 2 testimony, agriculture committee members asked about differences in oversight between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration, and the equivalency between foreign food safety standards and those in the U.S.

The hearing featured testimony from David Dever, chief executive office and president of Pandol Bros. Inc., Delano, Calif., and Tony DiMare, vice president of the DiMare Co., Homestead, Fla.

In a prepared statement, Dever said Pandol has taken on many forms of self-regulation, including measuring standards to identify risks and to providing for independent verification of compliance.

Dever said food safety has been produce industry’s top responsibility but work remains to be done.

“The industry, as a whole, must work together at developing systems and processes on a commodity-specific basis to enhance our food safety policies,” he said.

At the same time, imported produce must meet the same standards, Dever said.

“We encourage U.S. food safety officials to work together with their foreign counterparts to ensure that equivalent standards are in place,” he said.

Dever said imported food safety standards should be established on a government-to-government basis rather than relying on industry oversight.

“If the U.S. industry is required to police the supply chain outside of the U.S., this will put U.S. companies at a competitive disadvantage in the global marketplace,” he said.

Dever also said the FDA must develop a rule-making procedure that establishes risks and science-based regulations for the fresh produce industry.

More progress on electronic record keeping is needed to hasten the identification of problems and eliminate exposures.

After his remarks, Dever was asked by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., if the FDA — which oversees produce safety — requires foreign farms to be inspected before they can ship to the U.S., in the same way the USDA requires foreign meat packing facilities to be.

“No, they do not,” Dever said, adding that Pandol deals with USDA inspections when importing Chilean grapes.

Dever said Pandol does not require third party audits of their Chilean growers.

“We’re comfortable with the Chilean operations today, but we’re looking for equivalency in regulations down there to ensure that the product that comes in there equals ours,” he said.

He noted some operations in Chile exceed U.S. food safety standards, though not because of FDA efforts.

One committee member asked why Dever believed that FDA could do a better job of regulating on-farm food safety than the USDA.

“From our perspective, I’m looking for a regulatory body — it’s up to Congress to decide which regulatory body to do it,” he said.

Peterson asked the panel why they thought the FDA doesn’t do a better job in foreign countries.

“In talking with some of those folks, I think they do wish they had a bigger presence — particularly in Mexico — but I think lack of resources is part of the issue,” DiMare said.

He said FDA officials who had traveled to Mexico to investigate the 2007 Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak told him that parts of Mexico were “rich in salmonella,” though not the same strain they were looking for during the outbreak.

Peterson also asked if government regulators felt pressure to keep commerce moving at the risk of food safety.

DiMare said political pressure from Mexico was immense during the salmonella outbreak, which he said may have delayed resolution of the salmonella outbreak.

“Something’s wrong with the system,” he said.

In his statement, DiMare said the DiMare Co. started a food safety and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point program as early as 1990 at its Tampa, Fla., repack facility.

That program was expanded to the company’s other facilities in the mid-1990s.

Beyond a robust farm and packinghouse safety protocols, DiMare explained the company’s recall and traceback program. He said one mock recall conducted in July 2008 took less than one hour to complete.

“We strive and have achieved for tracebacks to be done in less than four hours each and every time we conduct a mock recall,” he said.