Farmers analyze proposed rules on food safety
By Kate Campbell
Representatives of farm and produce-business organizations promise a thorough review of proposed federal food-safety regulations unveiled last week by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In California, analysts said they'll focus on any differences between the proposed FDA rules and practices already being followed by California farmers and produce packers.
"California has taken the lead in developing food safety practices for fresh produce and in many ways these proposed rules build on what our farmers are already doing," said Josh Rolph, California Farm Bureau Federation international trade and farm policy director.
But he added that the fresh-produce rule alone totals nearly 550 pages, and "the devil is in the details."
"It's entirely possible the proposed FDA rules go beyond what we're doing, but we'll need to thoroughly review these rules to figure out what they include and how they may impact California agriculture," he said.
The FDA released two proposed rules intended to help implement the Food Safety Modernization Act, which Congress passed in 2010. Public comment on the proposals will be accepted during the next 120 days.
The first proposed rule would require food makers to develop formal plans for preventing foodborne illness and to have plans for correcting any problems. The rule would apply to food to be sold in the U.S. whether produced at a foreign or domestic facility.
The FDA proposed that manufacturers be in compliance with the new rules one year after they become final, but said small and very small businesses would be given additional time.
The second proposed rule includes what the FDA called enforceable safety standards for production and harvesting of produce on farms using science- and risk-based standards.
The rule sets standards for what the FDA described as "identified routes of microbial contamination of produce," including agricultural water; biological soil amendments of animal origin; health and hygiene; animals in the growing area; and equipment, tools and buildings.
Larger farms would need to be in compliance with most of the produce safety requirements 26 months after the rule becomes final. Small and very small farms would have additional time to comply—and all farms would have additional time to comply with certain requirements related to water quality, FDA said.
In California, producers of leafy greens, tomatoes and cantaloupes have all implemented programs that require government inspectors to audit farms and packing facilities to ensure compliance with food-safety practices.
The president and CEO of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, Scott Horsfall, said California leafy-greens producers "are accustomed to operating under a system where food is produced with mandatory government oversight to provide a safe product for consumers." He said he is confident programs such as the leafy-greens agreement "can provide a mechanism to immediately implement this law."
A spokesman for the United Fresh Produce Association, Ray Gilmer, said his organization will analyze the proposed rules to make sure they follow principles that produce-business groups supported throughout development of the Food Safety Modernization Act. He said rules should be commodity-specific, based on the best available science, risk-based, consistent no matter where produce is grown or packaged, and flexible "to allow for advances in science and production technology."
The proposed rules would not apply to produce used for personal or on-farm consumption or commercial processing that adequately reduces the presence of microorganisms, and it would not cover farms with $25,000 or less in sales during a three-year period.
"We know one-size-fits-all rules won't work," FDA Deputy Commissioner Michael Taylor said. "We've worked to develop proposed regulations that can be both effective and practical across today's diverse food system."
Bryan Silbermann, president and CEO of the Produce Marketing Association, noted that the two proposed rules released last week are the first of many "that will have implications for every aspect of the global produce supply chain."
FDA said additional rules will be released soon that include new responsibilities for importers to verify that food products grown or processed overseas are as safe as domestically produced food and accreditation standards to strengthen the quality of third-party food safety audits overseas. Improving oversight of imported food is an important goal of the Food Safety Modernization Act, officials said.
About 15 percent of the food consumed in the U.S. is imported, with much higher proportions in categories such as produce.
The FDA said it will also propose preventive control rules for animal food facilities, similar to the controls proposed for human food.
Online information on the proposed rules may be found at www.fda.gov/Food/FoodSafety/FSMA/default.htm.
(Kate Campbell is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at email@example.com.)
Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.