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MCALLEN, RGV – McAllen Mayor Jim Darling makes many, many welcoming remarks at the start of meetings in his city but he doubts any will be more important than the one he made on Tuesday.

On behalf of the City of McAllen and the McAllen Economic Development Corporation, Darling introduced a two-day conference hosted by the Texas International Produce Association (TIPA) at the McAllen Convention Center.

TIPA hosted a delegation of representatives from SAGARPA, SENASICA, and various state officials throughout Mexico at the McAllen Convention Center The meeting was called to discuss the progress of the Mexican government’s food safety program as it relates to fresh fruits and vegetables (known as SRRC), how SENASICA intends to educate and regulate producers in Mexico, and the opportunities for partnerships between the U.S. government’s health officials such as the Food & Drug Administration, and the U.S. produce-importer community.

“Food safety is an incredibly huge and decisive issue, and one of the few issues that has the ability to set the stage for our entire, global fresh produce industry,” said Dante Galeazzi, the president of TIPA.

Over 100 people attended from various federal and state Mexico entities; federal U.S. agencies; as well as industry members including importers, growers, and customs brokers from both the U.S. and Mexico. “This was a unique opportunity for all the stakeholders involved in the fresh fruits and vegetables supply chain to participate and discuss the opportunities and challenges before our industry,” Galeazzi said.

Darling began his welcome by saying: “I give the introduction to many, many, meetings a year but I have to tell you this is probably the most important one I will do this year. We are very connected in our community with Mexico, with the city of Reynosa, the state of Tamaulipas and the country of Mexico in many, many ways. But I think one way that is so important is the produce industry and the sharing of produce both exports and imports in our area.”

Darling cited recent news media reports relating to the papaya, as an example of the importance of hosting produce association regulators. Darling was referring to a recent salmonella outbreak in yellow Maradol papayas from Mexico.

He explained to the audience that he not only serves as mayor of McAllen but also executive director of the Rio Grande Regional Water Authority. Indeed, he was president of the organization for the past ten years.

“We deal with Rio Grande River issues from Eagle Pass to Brownsville. We dealt with BECC, which was the environmental wing of NADBank and which deals with the NAFTA issues, so I am aware of it (relations with Mexico) not only as a produce industry issue and a produce issue, but also as an environmental issue as we treat the Rio Grande River.”

Darling noted that “there are a lot of questions out there about where we are and what we need to do.” For this reason, he said thanks should go to the Texas International Produce Association “for helping us come together both as produce people and regulators to bring some answers and clarity to the important situation of food safety.”

Darling said he had taken note of TIPA’s agenda for the next two days.

“It is a great learning opportunity and I notice (you are scheduled to go to) the Riverside Club in Mission between 8 and 10:30 tonight. Enjoy that as a time for social learning and having a few drinks and really seeing what is going on in the produce industry,” Darling said.

“It is an interesting time because the Riverside Club is soon to be south of the border as soon as President Trump builds his wall. So, we have had challenges on our border, not only agricultural but also political challenges. In McAllen, we believe in our friendship with Mexico, we believe what happens in Mexico happens to us, and we truly, truly believe that, so I hope you have a great time today and welcome to McAllen.”

Education on Regulations

The TIPA meeting focused on how the Mexican government’s food safety program has proceeded since the passage of the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), how they plan to ‘educate and regulate’ producers, and creating new partnerships between U.S. and Mexican producers.

TIPA hosted a delegation of representatives from the Servicio Nacional de Sanidad, Inocuidad y Calidad Agroalimentaria (SENASICA) and the Secretaria de Agricultura, Ganaderia, Desarrollo Rural, Pesca y Alimentacion (SAGARPA) and several state officials from Mexico to give updates on the preventative measures Mexican producers are taking to meet the new regulations.

In 2011, the FDA mandated the import community to verify imported food met U.S. safety standards in an effort to prevent produce contamination outbreaks.

TIPA represents 250 members in the produce industry, which include importers, producers, packers, custom brokers and material providers who work closely with Mexico in trade.

Dante Galeazzi, the president of TIPA, said the meeting was essential for members to understand the regulations that affect Mexican produce companies.

“This is important because a lot of our members are working with companies in Mexico, so its very important for them to understand how the regulations that affect them are being developed in Mexico so they know how to apply that in their everyday business here in the United States,” Galeazzi told the Rio Grande Guardian.

Galeazzi said the reason TIPA held the meeting was to discuss FSMA and how SENASICA has improved to meet FDA standards, but, he said, informing producers on those standards can be difficult.

“SENASICA has really grown leaps and bounds because what they’re doing, they’re stepping up just like the FDA is, and they’re attempting to educate before they regulate,” Galeazzi said. “Which is to say, they’re trying to get all the information out there to the producers and the growers and the re-packers in Mexico just like the FDA is trying to do here in the United States, but what they have trouble with is sometimes getting to the right people.”

The food safety meeting allows for U.S. and Mexican producers to connect and better communicate on the issues surrounding the produce industry and to better understand the affects of the regulations, Galeazzi said.

“That’s where associations like TIPA are important because we help connect them directly with those guys,” Galeazzi said. “We bring them, so to say, to the dirt, and we show them, ‘hey this is the farmer you want to be talking to, here’s the problems he has everyday, here’s how implementing these laws would affect him.’ How do we make these laws not so much practical, but how do we make these laws usable and how do we make them applicable so that way the food system is safe, both here in the U.S. and Mexico. Because really, we don’t want to feed anything to our families that we wouldn’t eat and thus, we’re not going to sell that to someone else if we’re not comfortable feeding it to our own families.”

Galeazzi emphasized that the U.S. and Mexico need to work together to improve food safety instead of a having a complicated system.

“We’re trying to show them, hey, Mexico and SENASICA, they’re doing their developments, FDA and the U.S. they’re doing their developments, let’s make sure that we’re working together though, so its not two independent systems,” Galeazzi said. “There’s harmony in the systems and they’re both equivalent.”

TIPA has also been keeping a watchful eye on the recent salmonella outbreak in yellow Maradol papayas from Mexico, Galeazzi said. Outbreaks like that can have a significant affect on the entire produce industry.

“Well obviously watching for the papaya outbreak,” Galeazzi said. “They finally found a farm that’s good, so now we’re going to start seeing some positive news come up with the industry. Because when you have an outbreak like that and you get the information, they say well, it was Mexico papayas, and we heard them talk about it.

“It doesn’t just affect the Mexico papayas it affects all papayas. Ultimately it affects all of the produce industry because if the American consumer and the Mexican consumers sees another fresh produce outbreak, they avoid the entire fresh produce isle. They don’t just avoid papayas, and so our concern is when we have issues like that and there’s no control, we affect the entire industry. So we’re really trying to keep an eye and make sure that we work as best as possible so they understand the supply chain.”

Editor’s Note: In addition to the above story by Jacqueline Arias, our Tamaulipas reporter, Blanca Zumaya filed a story about the conference in Spanish. Here it is:

Tamaulipas participa en reunión con comercializadores de productos perecederos de Texas

MCALLEN, RGV – El Secretario de Desarrollo Rural Ariel Longoria García participó en una reunión de acercamiento con comercializadores de productos perecederos del estado de Texas.

El evento se realizó en el Centro de Convenciones de la ciudad de McAllen, en donde se trataron temas referentes a la inocuidad y sanidad de los alimentos que se producen y comercializan a nivel internacional, leyes que afectan al sector y a los productores mexicanos.

En la reunión estuvieron los Secretarios de Desarrollo Rural de los estados de Colima, Aguascalientes, Estado de México, representantes de SENASICA, de los Comités Estatales de Sanidad Vegetal y el Director de PyMES Rurales de la Secretaria de Desarrollo Rural, Patricio Ramírez Garza.

En el evento estuvo presente Dante Galeazzi, representante de Texas Internacional Produce Association (TIPA); Rigo Villarreal, Superintendente de los Puentes Internacionales McAllen-Hidalgo  y Anzaldúas, además del Director del Puente de Pharr, Luis Bazán.

Ariel Longoria indico que este tipo de reuniones fortalecen la cooperación y relación bilateral en beneficio de los productores tamaulipecos y de México.

Posteriormente el secretario de desarrollo rural junto a Jaymie Forrest, Directora Comercial y Jefa de la Cadena de Suministro de la empresa SCANTECH realizo un recorrido por las instalaciones donde se procesa con irradiación eléctrica a los productos perecederos para asegurar la inocuidad y prolongar su vida en los anaqueles.

Ahí el Secretario Ariel Longoria y el Director de PyMES Rurales de la Secretaria de Desarrollo Rural, Patricio Ramírez Garza, constataron que la empresa cuenta con instalaciones inteligentes para el tratamiento de los productos perecederos en sus empaques de origen.

La empresa localizada en Mc Allen, ayuda a toda la cadena de suministro, desde agricultores y empacadores, a incrementar la calidad de los productos perecederos.

Cabe destacar que en el recorrido también estuvieron presentes  los Secretarios de Desarrollo Rural de los estados de Colima, Aguascalientes, Estado de México, representantes de SENASICA, de los Comités Estatales de Sanidad Vegetal, Dante Galeazzi, representante de Texas Internacional Produce Association (TIPA); entre otros funcionarios estadounidenses.