Western Growers is urging the House Committee on Agriculture to hold hearings as soon as possible on the salmonella outbreak that has been associated with fresh, red round, roma and plum tomatoes.

FDA and CDC have been unable to definitively determine the source or the cause of this outbreak and while these issues remain a "mystery," tomato growers across the nation are suffering irreparable harm.

"Congress must investigate this matter and determine ways to avoid this in the future and make the innocent tomato growers, packers and shippers whole," said Tom Nassif, president and CEO of Western Growers."

"FDA's comments to the media earlier today do not leave us confident that a progressive narrowing of the investigation through a thorough trace back process is occurring. It is very possible that we may never know if tomatoes are the source or, if they are, where they were grown or processed or how they were contaminated.

"Our industry has taken dramatic steps to develop the strongest practices possible to prevent contamination in the field and throughout the supply chain. We have done this in close collaboration with public health authorities at the local and federal level. Now it is time to look at how FDA 'intervenes' in the event of an outbreak and how they 'communicate' with the public and industry to ensure that public health is protected without the irreparable destruction of agricultural economies.

"The collateral damage inflicted on thousands of innocent producers in this country by FDA blanket 'advisories,' such as with spinach and tomatoes cannot go unchallenged.

"We look forward to a positive response from the House Committee on Agriculture and to working with them to balance the important goals of protecting public health and agricultural economies," said Nassif.

Western Growers is an agricultural trade association whose members from Arizona and California grow, pack and ship 90 percent of the fresh fruits, nuts and vegetables grown in California and 75 percent of those commodities in Arizona. This totals about half of the nation's fresh produce.