State agriculture commissioners just happen to be meeting in Louisville, and they say the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) is harming innocent tomato producers throughout the South.

“We understand that the FDA has a big responsibility, but it is necessary for them to open the lines of communication with the public as well as the states,” said Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer, president of the Southern Association of State Departments of Agriculture (SASDA), during SASDA’s annual conference in Lexington, Ky. “The FDA needs to work with the states to pinpoint the source of the outbreak and eradicate it without unnecessarily harming producers whose products are not affected by the outbreak.”

Other Ag commissioners piled on:

  • Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson said the FDA’s statements on the salmonella outbreak “have basically shut down the southern tomato growers.” 
  • Commissioner Bronson said no FDA official has been to Florida or asked his state’s government to help trace the outbreak. 
  • Alabama Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks pointed out that his state, which borders Florida, is on the FDA’s list of unaffected states. “It doesn’t make good sense,” he said.
  • Tennessee Agriculture Commissioner Ken Givens said the decision of some national restaurant chains to take tomatoes off their products comes at a time when U.S. hamburger consumption is at an all-time high. “This couldn’t come at a worse time,” he said
  • West Virginia Agriculture Commissioner Gus Douglass said the FDA’s statements on the outbreak are affecting sales of hydroponically grown tomatoes from states farther north that are not on the FDA’s list of unaffected states.

Late Tuesday, FDA added much of Florida to the list of tomato growing areas found not to be responsible for the current 17-state outbreak of Salmonella Saintpaul in tomatoes.  What everybody has been waiting for, however, is for FDA to say where the tainted tomatoes actually came from.  Mexico is No. 1 on the suspect list, but FDA has gone through a lengthy process of naming the innocent before finding the guilty.