TALLAHASSEE — Florida tomato growers want compensation from the federal government for millions of dollars lost because of an investigation that originally focused on raw tomatoes after a salmonella outbreak this spring.
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson travels to Washington next week to ensure an entire industry is not unnecessarily tainted.
"Public health and safety is, of course, the top priority, but we also have to look out for growers who are losing tens of millions of dollars unnecessarily," Bronson spokeswoman Liz Compton said. "We're going to have food-borne illnesses in the future, but that doesn't mean an entire industry should have to suffer."
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration inspected Florida tomatoes in June and found no problems, but the investigation virtually killed the market for fresh tomatoes.
"If they (FDA) didn't know what they were talking about, then they shouldn't have ever said anything until they knew," said Will Maxwell, president of Gadsden County Tomato Growers Association in North Florida. "We got tainted with the whole deal, guilt by association so to speak."
U.S. Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Bartow, is working with members of the Florida congressional delegation to help growers whose livelihoods have been devastated by the FDA's warnings.
Compton said growers remain in a difficult position because it's time to start planting for the October harvest, but they aren't sure how much to plant because of the public's doubts.