FDA Revises Food Safety Rules

Food SafetyAfter farmers complained that the regulations could hurt business, The Food and Drug Administration revised sweeping food safety rules proposed last year. Regulators say balancing the need for tighter food safety standards after major food-borne illness outbreaks in spinach, eggs, peanuts and cantaloupe against the needs of farmers who are new to such regulations has been a challenge.

  1. The new proposals would relax water quality standards and allow farmers to harvest crops sooner after using raw manure as fertilizer.
  2. Farmers will need to take new precautions against contamination,
    1. making sure workers’ hands are washed,
    2. irrigation water is clean and that animals stay out of fields, among other things.
  3. Food manufacturers would also have to submit food safety plans to the government to show they are keeping their operations clean.

Those changes would, in many cases, require new equipment, paperwork and record-keeping. Michael Taylor, FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods, says the agency is trying to “achieve the goal of food safety in a practical way.” The rules are new terrain for the agency, he says. The final rules are due in 2015, and the FDA has been haggling over how to write them since Congress passed a food safety law in 2010.

“Pre-Revised Rules Would Cost Us $30,000 Per Year”

After complaints from farmers big and small who said the rules were too burdensome, the new proposal would relax some standards for the amount of bacteria that can be found in irrigation water and reduce the frequency with which it is tested, in some cases. The proposal also reduces the amount of time required between fertilizing crops with raw manure and harvest and allows farmers to hold produce in a packing house without further regulations. The smallest farms would continue to be exempted from many of the rules. The agency said when it proposed the rules that they could cost large farms $30,000 a year.  Government inspectors have pointed to dirty equipment, unsanitary conditions and animal feces as likely causes for salmonella, E. coli and listeria poisonings that have sickened hundreds in recent years. There are an estimated 3,000 deaths a year from foodborne illness.

The new proposal will have a 75-day comment period. The FDA is legally required to finalize the rules by next year after being sued by an advocacy group last year for missing deadlines.

It Ain’t Easy Being FDA

Keep in mind that FDA is struggling to respond to the needs of a number of different groups, including farmers of all kinds — organic, conventional, large, small, domestic and international — as well as responding to the concerns of environmental groups and consumer advocates. FDA is striving not to disrupt either the critical business operations or the existing food safety practices of farmers and companies, many of whom are already setting standards of excellence for food safety. At the same time, they are charged with bringing all food producers up to a basic standard of safety.  Ultimately, the laws they implement should actually improve food safety and not just increase costs. The task is indeed daunting.44

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Tim Cansler