(June 11) It’s rare that growers and shippers would willingly accept tighter regulations on how they go about their business, but Florida‘s new food safety law for tomatoes was engineered by and lobbied for by the industry.

The law, signed by Gov. Charlie Crist on May 24, mandates producers and packers follow good agricultural practices that previously had been voluntary for all Florida-grown tomatoes. The specifics of those practices haven’t yet been written, but the new law is designed to give the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services oversight, and the tomato industry would pay for routine field and packinghouse inspections by the department.

September’s E. coli outbreak was a flashpoint that spurred growers, shippers and distributors of fruits and vegetables across the country to review their production, packing and handling operations for potential food safety flaws. Although recent deaths and illnesses traced to spinach, lettuce, peanut butter and pet food underscored the need to follow good agricultural practices, Florida’s tomato industry had been working on a program for three years.

It’s the first statewide food safety program focusing on a specific commodity, according to the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, and it could become a model for other commodity groups. The California Leafy Green Products Handler Marketing Agreement, a voluntary program whose membership includes nearly all in that industry, has similar provisions.

Both groups are working to reestablish confidence at a time when problems with everything from beef to imported toothpaste is shaping consumers’ views of what they’ll buy.

As the produce industry enters a new era of increased food safety vigilance, growers and shippers must be involved in the process. Florida tomato grower-shippers have done the right thing.