Alabama Agricultural Commissioner Ron Sparks said seven Southern Commissioners of Agriculture called an emergency meeting June 10 in response to the recent outbreak of salmonella in raw tomatoes.

During the meeting, commissioners from Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, West Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Alabama, who are all attending the Southern Association of State Departments of Agriculture (SASDA) meeting in Lexington, Ky., held a conference call with the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to voice their concerns about the information provided to the public about the tainted tomato issue.

Although Alabama and other states have been placed on the FDA’s “safe to eat” list, the delay in reporting the states that were safe has caused damage to the industry on a widespread, national level.

The FDA’s policies that were implemented in this case have hurt tomato farmers in states that are not affected by the outbreak. Some states have reported the process for getting on the list was stifled and prolonged unnecessarily by red tape even though their harvest season had been reported and the state was clearly salmonella free.

“The lack of action by the FDA has been devastating to farmers across the South because people depend on this for their livelihood,” stated Commissioner Sparks. “When a national story comes out about bad tomatoes, it is important to let the public know that our farmers’ products are safe. It is irresponsible not to make it clear. The Departments of Agriculture across the country are the FDA’s eyes and ears on the ground and can support them, but if we don’t have good communication, we will have a problem like this.”

Alabama’s tomato harvest season began this week and the tomatoes are not part of the salmonella outbreak, but some buyers are still hesitant to purchase any tomatoes from states that are not on the FDA “safe to eat” list.

The Commissioners want to ensure that people know their states are producing a safe, quality product.

The “safe to eat” list is updated periodically and can be found on the FDA website: http://www.fda.gov/oc/opacom/hottopics/tomatoes.html.