In the first program of its kind anywhere in the country, Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Charles H. Bronson has announced his department will institute food safety regulations governing all aspects of tomato production in the state.

Bronson is praising Governor Charlie Crist for his support and signature of the general agriculture bill which includes this vital new program.

In response to growing concerns over tainted pet food and contaminated animal feed from China, as well as recent food-borne illnesses associated with California spinach and peanut butter from Georgia, Bronson and the Florida Tomato Exchange devised a plan to assure consumer confidence in what is one of Florida’s largest crops and convinced the Florida Legislature to enact the change into law during the recently-concluded legislative session.

“Florida is the nation’s largest producer of fresh tomatoes, and our department and industry are committed to doing all that we can to make sure that our crop is the safest it possibly can be,” Bronson said.

Added Reggie Brown, of the Florida Tomato Exchange, an organization representing farmers who produce about 90 percent of the state’s tomato crop:

“We’re talking about a comprehensive statewide program requiring mandatory standards to assure we produce the safest tomatoes in the world as a means of assuring public confidence.”

Bronson said that he believes the new tomato regulatory program will serve as a model both in Florida and throughout the nation, and that the program will trigger other commodity groups to seek such oversight of the crops they produce.

Many Florida farmers, packing houses and other processors currently rely on what are known as Best Management Practices (BMPs) or Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) to grow and process the crops that they grow or handle. But the programs are voluntary, and the change enacted by the Legislature involving tomato production will make such practices mandatory.