The Produce Marketing Association (PMA) has named Robert Whitaker, one of the produce industry’s most respected scientists, as the association’s first chief scientific officer.

Whitaker will direct the creation of PMA’s new science-based programs and services at a time when food safety, traceability, sustainability and other science-based issues are taking immediacy in the produce industry.

Whitaker has worked in the produce and agricultural industries since 1982 and has an extensive and multi-faceted background including food safety, security and quality, new product development, product and process innovation, production, operations, research ranging from consumer testing to plant breeding, grower and industry outreach, and planning and training.

“We created this position as an investment in the future, so we are naturally thrilled to have Bob help create and implement the critical programs, not just in food safety but also in a range of other science and technology areas that will fundamentally change this business in the years to come,” said PMA President Bryan Silbermann. “His expertise in science and innovation will help strengthen the entire global supply chain.”

Whitaker comes to PMA from NewStar Fresh Foods LLC of Salinas, Calif., where he served as vice president of the company’s product development and innovation program.

He previously served as president of NewStar’s value-added salad production company, MissionStar Processing LLC, and held vice president positions in charge of product development and food safety, value-added operations/research and development, and product quality and development.

“Bob has the rare combination of a brilliant scientific mind and feet firmly planted in the field, packinghouse or processing facility – he knows how to transfer sound science into business practices that make sense,” said PMA’s Board Chairman Bruce Taylor, chairman and chief executive officer of Taylor Farms, Inc., Salinas, Calif.

“He brings the diverse and unusual skill set that the PMA board had in mind when we charted the course for the association to take a leadership position on food safety, and the other science issues on the horizon, including sustainability,” Taylor said.

Whitaker’s recent credentials include helping to develop Good Agricultural Practices metrics for the leafy greens industry’s return to market after food borne illness outbreaks in fall 2006, and serving on the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement’s Technical Committee.

He also developed corporate biosecurity programs and comprehensive food safety programs including state-of-the-art Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point systems, developed multi-year modernization plans for processing facilities, and identified new technologies to provide competitive advantages in processing, packaging and production.