TALCA, CHILE — The divided highway south of Santiago quickly gives up what much of this country is about as the fields change from grapes to nuts. Chile’s renewable food industry is an exporting phenomenon for this country of almost 18 million. It has grown up quickly and now equals the country’s historic extractable resource — copper.
And although Chile’s growers weren’t able to reach their past peaks of around 750,000 tons of apples shipped or prevent a light drop in table grapes, the 2015-16 growing year saw higher volumes of blueberries, avocados, and citrus.
Working out of a suite of offices next to a Starbucks in Santiago, the organization is known as “Chilealimentos.” In government circles in Chile, they refer to the “agro-industrial” revolution when speaking about the rapid growth in food exports.But during its annual conference today at Hotel Casino in Talca, the organization that represents the producers, manufacturers, suppliers and exporters for Chile’s food industry is going to be focused on food safety, especially what the U.S. Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) might mean to them as exporters.
At today’s sessions, Chilean manufacturers of canned and frozen juices and others products, along with their growers, distributors, and suppliers, will be learning how to stay off the import alert at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration under the new FSMA rules.
While the U.S. might account for about $3 billion of Chile’s $16-billion food export business, the new FDA rules have their attention. They’ve brought U.S. corporate and international trade attorney Thomas E. Skilton in for the FSMA schooling. Skilton is the managing partner of Cameron LLP in Washington D.C.
Skilton says he will tell the growers and exporters that they must accept the FSMA philosophy of preventing food safety problems, not just reacting to them after they occur.
Chile’s food exports are a broad and changing mix. Fresh fruit totaled 2.5 million tons, up by almost 6 percent compared with the previous year. However, the mix is in constant change. Chile now sends 99 percent of its raspberries for freezing or other processing because it decided its thousands of small growers could not be competitive in the fresh market.