(June 19) Sen. Tom Harkin is poised to introduce legislation this summer that would provide a national regulatory framework for fruits and vegetables.

“The majority staffers of the committee are working with the produce industry and food safety advocates on a bill that will provide a national regulatory framework for reducing foodborne illness caused by produce,” said Kate Cyrul, a spokeswoman for the Senate Agriculture Committee, on June 12.

She said Harkin, D-Iowa, and chairman of the committee, would like to introduce the legislation by the August recess. However, she said that timing wasn’t firm because the draft legislation is still being reviewed by interested parties.

Industry lobbyists say Harkin’s bill is patterned after S 823, a produce safety bill the Iowa senator introduced in 1999, then titled “The Fruit and Vegetable Safety Act.”

That Legislation, co-sponsored by Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and John Kerry, D-Mass, was not passed by the Senate.

Harkin’s recent draft of the new legislation was reviewed by the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association’s government relations council in late May. Regional produce associations have also had opportunities to look at the draft, said Tom Stenzel, president of the United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C.

Stenzel said he appreciated the openness of Harkin’s staff in sharing their work on the bill. However, Stenzel said United Fresh is not trying to write a produce safety bill with Harkin.

“We are not trying to cooperate with them in having any bill whatsoever, but we are trying to give them feedback on what doesn’t work with their approach,” Stenzel said.

“The bottom line is that we appreciate where they are coming from, but we felt their approach is too prescriptive,” he said.

Even so, Stenzel noted that Harkin’s staff has said he intends to introduce a produce safety bill with or without the industry’s support.

Stenzel argued that Harkin’s bill, which would mandate regulations on growers and processors, isn’t needed.

“The FDA has told us that they don’t need any more regulatory authority,” he said.