SALEM, Ohio — The public comment period continues for new federal rules designed to increase the safety of the nation’s produce, and to meet the requirements of the Food Safety Modernization Act.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has revised its rule proposal various times over the past couple years, and announced its most recent revision Sept. 19, with a public comment period that extends through mid-December.
The current rules reflect five basic changes farmers sought, including more flexible definitions for water quality and manure application; a new definition of which farms must meet the new rules; and more clarity over who is exempt.
Although the rules have been changed many times, farmers and the groups that represent them say they’re pleased FDA is listening.
“They (FDA) are taking a lot of feedback. They are trying to make sure that the rule meets the needs … but that it is also a workable rule,” said Kristi Boswell, director of congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation.
Boswell said the most recent revision addresses Farm Bureau’s concerns, but Farm Bureau continues to be involved with the process, and the final rule.
The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association said the FDA is “to be commended for listening to farmers and the public and for realizing that a second draft was necessary.”
Amalie Lipstreu, OEFFA policy program coordinator, said the original regulations, issued in 2013, contained several requirements that would have jeopardized organic farmers, discouraged growth of local food systems, and negatively impacted the conservation of natural resources.
In response, OEFFA and other state and national groups mobilized more than 18,000 farmers, consumers, and food businesses to submit comments to FDA.
One of the biggest concerns among organic and non-organic growers, was the FDA definition of different sized farms and farm businesses. Previously, the rule required producers who sold more than $25,000 worth of “food” to comply, but it also counted non-produce crops such as corn and soybeans.
The current rule counts only the sale of “produce foods,” which gives farmers more flexibility as to which level of compliance they must meet.
“Basing farm size on sales of covered produce, rather than total sales, is incredibly important for diversified farming operations,” Lipstreu said.
Also, the definition of farm is revised, so that a farm no longer would need to register as a food facility, “merely because it packs or holds raw agricultural commodities grown on another farm under a different ownership.”
Another major revision is the time period when farmers can apply manure, prior to harvesting a crop.
The FDA is removing the nine-month proposed minimum interval between application and harvest, while it reviews a more appropriate time interval.
Also, at the relief of organic farmers, “FDA does not intend to take exception to farmers complying with the USDA’s National Organic Program standards,” which call for a 120-day interval between the application of raw manure for crops in contact with the soil, and 90 days for crops not in contact with the soil.
Boswell said “time will tell” what the final rule will look like and how it will work, but at the same time, “FDA made a great step forward” by listening to producers.
Once the rule is complete, the FDA will need to determine how it will implement the rule and how implementation will be funded.
The legislation would increase the burden on FDA’s inspection functions, the number of employees, and the agency’s annual operating budget.
“Without additional funding, FDA will be challenged in implementing the legislation fully without compromising other key functions,” according to FDA.
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About 48 million people (one in six Americans) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die each year from foodborne diseases, according to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
On Nov. 13, FDA will hold a public meeting to discuss the changes, at the Harvey W. Wiley Federal Building, in College Park, Maryland. The meeting will also be available online via live webcast.
Public meeting attendees are encouraged to register online to attend the meeting in person. Contact Courtney Treece, Planning Professionals, at 704-258-4983, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Seating is limited.