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Honduran Government Calls for U.S.-Honduran “Emergency Task Force” to Resolve Alleged Salmonella CaseFaces “Growing Crisis” Without Swift Bilateral Action 

For Immediate Release
March 26, 2008

Tegucigalpa, Honduras – The Honduran Government today called for a U.S.-Honduran “Emergency Task Force” to resolve a “growing crisis” that threatens to undermine the Honduran agricultural sector. The proposal was in response to an “import alert” issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warning that some cantaloupes from Honduras may be associated with recent cases of Salmonella in the United States.

At this point, however, it does not appear that the FDA has conclusively determined where the problem may have originated along the supply chain. The agency therefore called for detaining or destroying all cantaloupes imported from a single Honduran supplier. The broad-based nature of the alert has prompted international reaction and resulted in a potentially crippling strain on the Honduran national economy.

“This action has precipitated a growing crisis throughout our agricultural sector,” Secretary Hernandez Amador wrote in a letter to his American counterpart, Secretary Michael Leavitt. “We are confronted with potentially devastating losses of jobs and income within a critical sector of our economy, and one which must function within an extremely short growing season.”

While endorsing the need for the FDA’s process to ensure the safety of food products in the American market, Honduran Agriculture Secretary Hector Hernandez Amador urged this “extraordinary cooperative effort” between the two governments as a means to quickly pinpoint the origins of the problem and resume commerce.

“Given the length of our growing season, the alternative is the collapse of the melon industry,” he said.

Specifically, the Honduran Government is requesting the immediate formation of a Task Force of American and Honduran experts to work cooperatively and expeditiously to:

1.      Conduct a full examination of all data of potential health and food safety concern;

2.      Conduct an immediate review of Honduran growing and packing facilities to ensure the adequacy of the Honduran food safety system;

3.      Provide for the resumption of commerce consistent with such reviews;

4.      Issue appropriate public communications from both governments to avoid unnecessary negative reaction in the American and international markets.

The Honduran Secretary expressed full confidence in the ability of American and Honduran officials to resolve the matter quickly, but that timing was the critical factor.

“In order to be effective, the work of the team must begin immediately and it must be completed in a matter of days, not weeks,” urged Secretary Hernandez Amador.