May 13, 2008

Melons still don't meet the requirements

Honduran melonsPhoto: El Tiempo, Honduras

Another report has been issued by the FDA regarding Montelibano's melons. I was just talking to El Jefe's brothers about this. One brother is convinced that the whole thing is political and he wasn't listening to my arguments at all. He said that he believes it is political is because the FDA hasn't done any scientific tests. I said that sure they have, but you probably won't ever read about them in Honduras.

Sure enough, I came home and checked the FDA site. While they don't give the actual test results, they do say that Montelibano has taken corrective measures, but not adequately enough. The FDA has issued to them a detailed review of the measures and comments about what still needs to be improved. I haven't read about that in La Prensa or any other Honduran newspaper, and yes, I checked them all.

I did find this April 27th article from La Tribuna which states that Agrolibano/Montelibano did not cooperate with the FDA inspectors and that the inspectors were not allowed to take water samples or to talk to nearby residents. (Translated version of article) That might be why the FDA was so tight-lipped about their tests here. Generally, there would at least be a press conference in which the inspectors would commend everyone for their cooperation, blah, blah, blah.

I also had the thought that wouldn't it be wonderful if, out of fear of economic effects, that Honduras actually worked to clean up its water supply for its own citizens? Wrong reasons, but it seems in most cases, nothing is done for the people unless there is outside pressure. That's a whole 'nother blog topic, but there are so many examples of that mentality. Citizens don't matter, businesses, investors, and tourists do.

Here is the FDA update:

May 6, 2008: Honduran firm Agropecuaria Montelíbano continues to work to improve its FOOD-safety controls over its growing and packing operations to minimize the potential for contamination of cantaloupes. The firm has provided the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) within the U.S. Department of Health And Human Services (HHS) with documentation of its corrective actions made through April 2008. However, after review of the documentation submitted, the measures implemented to date do not appear to adequately prevent the risk of contamination. HHS/FDA continues to work with the firm by providing a detailed review of the corrective measures, including specific comment on the areas that still need improvement.

On March 21, 2008, HHS/FDA issued an Import Alert on Agropecuaria Montelíbano after epidemiological and trace-back investigations linked cantaloupes from that company to a Salmonellosis outbreak in the United States, with 51 illnesses confirmed in 16 States.

A multidisciplinary team, which consisted of experts from both HHS/FDA and the HHS Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, conducted an on-site evaluation of Agropecuaria Montelíbano in Honduras.

Agropecuaria U.S. Customs officials and HHS/FDA will continue to detain Agropecuaria Montelíbano's product, without physical examination, when offered for entry into the United States, until HHS/FDA lifts the Import Alert. For HHS/FDA to remove Agropecuaria Montelíbano from the Import Alert, HHS/FDA needs to verify that the firm has taken the corrective measures necessary to ensure that it is growing, processing and transporting cantaloupes in a way that does not cause the melons to appear to be adulterated, that its product meets U.S. standards for food safety, and that, specifically, its cantaloupes do not contain Salmonella.

I wonder what they mean by not causing the melons "to appear to be adulterated"? That is something that I have not read mentioned before.

I think that El Jefe's brother was not aware that many, many companies have been sanctioned, including US companies, though his other brother was. He thought that the US was just picking on Honduras because he's heard on television that the US wants to punish President Zelaya for his association with Venezuela's Chávez. His brother is angry with the US.

I suggested that he should be angry with the company whose careless practices have caused such damage to the reputation of all Honduran agricultural businesses. He looked really surprised because I don't think he had thought about it from that angle.

El Jefe said that if Honduras wants to sell in the global market, they are going to have to do a better job at meeting international quality standards. I've mentioned before that if you give any Honduran a choice between a foreign product and a Honduran product, they'll choose the foreign product every time because they know that the Honduran product will be of inferior quality. That is a sad commentary.

Prior article: Finally, but not final - FDA melon report with links to the other articles.
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