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United States working with Guatemala on food safety

Berries
Guatemalan raspberries have been linked to a rare parasite   
May 14, 1998
Web posted at: 3:16 p.m. EDT (1916 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Health officials in the United States are working with the Guatemalan government to set up model farming practices and prevent food safety problems.

The goal: to restore consumer confidence in fruits and vegetables exported to the United States from Guatemala.

The U.S.-Guatemalan food safety partnership began this year.

U.S. consumers, and the government, lost confidence in Guatemala's food exports after two outbreaks -- one in 1997, the other in 1996 -- in which people were sickened by Guatemalan raspberries. Health officials said the culprit was a parasite called cyclospora.

The U.S. responded by banning the raspberries until the Guatemalan raspberry industry can prove its farming and shipping practices meet certain health standards.

The export ban costs Guatemala an estimated $18 million a year, but the stakes are even higher.

Guatemalan officials say through their work with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control, they hope to boost global confidence in their goods.

"In the near future we expect results of the implementation of good manufacturing and good agricultural practices will bring out the result of having in the case of Guatemala one of the highest standards of fresh produce in the world," Pedro Miguel Lamport, Guatemala's ambassador to the United States, told CNN.

Lamport is already canvassing the United States to spread the word about Guatemala's safer foods.

"We have 32 fresh products down the pipeline for (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) approval to be exported to the United States," he told CNN. "These 32 products are the equivalent of over a billion dollars worth of exports to the United States," he added.

Lady with berries
California remains a source for fresh raspberries   

Some officials say shoppers should think like tourists when they venture into the produce section.

"We think if you're advised not to eat fruits and vegetables in a country when you travel there, why would you want to eat the fruits and vegetables from that same nation if they're on your grocery store shelf in the U.S.," said Martha Roberts of the Florida Department of Agriculture.

Meanwhile, if you are in the market for fresh raspberries there is a bountiful selection available this time of year, including berries from California, the Pacific Northwest and Chile.

Correspondent Carolyn O'Neil contributed to this report.

 
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