While some media coverage has reported 80% of farms are not covered by the produce safety rule, Gorny said statistics are different when viewed as total acreage of fruits and vegetables.
The rule exempts all farms producing less than $25,000 per year in sales, which represents about 1.5% of covered produce acres, he said.
FDA numbers indicate about half of fruit and vegetable acreage is covered by the produce rule. About 8% of the acres have a qualified exemption under the so-called Tester Amendment. Another 31% of the fruit and vegetable acres are exempt because of a kill step (processing) and 12% of the acres are 37 commodities that are rarely consumed raw, including asparagus and potatoes.
Gorny said groups like the California and Arizona leafy greens marketing agreements, which have instituted food safety rules, are already in compliance with the many provisions of the proposed rule.
“Certainly rigorous audits conducted under a national or regional marketing agreement are an important tool for fostering compliance with the produce safety rule,” he said. “We anticipate there are going to be lots of significant incentives for accountability through nonregulatory audits.”
That could include buyer-mandated audits, he said.
While the Foreign Supplier Verification Program rule has not yet been published and is still under review by the Office of Management and Budget, Gorny said regulation should be published soon. Gorny said the FDA has taken its time to deliver flexible rules and is open to more industry input.
“If you wanted a one size fits all, we could have done that really quick,” he said. “I think this is a very thoughtful approach and it is integrated across all the rules.”