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Food safety involves everyone

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The recent recall of 500 million eggs after an outbreak of 1,500 cases salmonella indicates the process works, says a Minnesota farm official.

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"The system worked," Kevin Paap, president of the Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation, said last week. "We've got a food safety system now where we're doing a better job of inspection, and that's why this came off well because we're seeing some of that inspection system work."

The egg problem was quickly isolated to two poultry farms in Iowa.

"We've all got to do a great job on food safety," Paap said in an interview while attending Thursday's Beltrami County Farm Bureau annual meeting in Bemidji. "It's not just farmers and ranchers. We've got to ask consumers for their help.

"If consumers don't properly chill, clean, separate and cook their food ..." Paap said. "We can have clean food coming from the grocery store to the kitchen and have a problem there. Food safety is really all the way from the farm to the plate in the kitchen at home."

Paap said the egg recall, although large, is an isolated problem.

"We're all measured by our poorest example," he said. "Certainly that was not a good example in agriculture. As far as Farm Bureau, as an organization, anybody that's breaking the rules, whether it's doing things not according to requirements, we really have no time for that. Whether it's producing food, whether it's caring for their animals, we want to make sure we do the best job we can."

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, DFL-Minn., is the lead sponsor of the Food Safety Modernization Act which calls for strengthening the Food and Drug Administration's authority and resources to ensure a safe food supply and help prevent outbreaks from occurring in the first place.

"We need to continue to look at food safety," says Paap, who is seeking a post on the American Farm Bureau Federation's board. "I think we're doing a good job now ... we're doing the best job we can but we can always strive to do better. The best is yet to come. Technology is changing, science is changing. We're going to continue to do a better job to produce not only an affordable product, affordable food, abundant food, but also safe and wholesome."

Also in the interview, Paap said the American Farm Bureau supports House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson's, DFL-7th District, effort to open up agricultural trade with Cuba.

"We raise more than we can use -- in this state and in this country," Paap said. "We've got the ability to access 96 percent of the people who don't live in the United States. Those are our customers. We need to do everything we can get trade.

"It only makes sense to trade with Cuba," he said. "We've got a competitive advantage to them. They're only 90 miles away. We need to make sure we can trade with everyone, especially those we have an advantage with."

In traveling to Farm Bureau annual meetings across the state, Paap said he's heard most about the state's pending $5.8 billion budget deficit and how to solve it.

"We've got to have a balanced checkbook," he said. "If there are new taxes, what will that do to agriculture? The deficit is probably the No. 1 state issue."

In November, at the Minnesota Farm Bureau's annual meeting, delegates will determine the organization's 2011 legislative priorities.

"We've also hearing a lot about mandates," Paap said, "especially mandates coming across as rules and regulations in an unnatural process. ... We need to go through the legislative process. That's why we have committees, that's why we elect our officials."

A number of such rules and regulations are coming through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency which Paap says concerns farmers and ranchers.

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