For some growers, the main concern is a lack of a low-risk status for commodities such as tree fruit, citrus and grapes, said Chris Schlect, president of the Northwest Horticultural Council, Yakima, Wash.
Given the complexity of the rule and the questions the FDA poses to the industry, Schlect said it may be tough to respond by the May 16 deadline for comments.
Growers are concerned about the cost of complying with the regulation and how the FDA’s proposed regulation differs from current food safety audits demanded by buyers, Schlect said.
Schlect said it isn’t clear how FDA can have an equivalent system for imports.
“They don’t have enough people to police the state of Colorado, let alone worldwide,” he said.
Though FDA aims for voluntary compliance with the food safety law, there will eventually be regulations on all commercial shipments, Schlect said.
“How do you enforce that and actually make sure people are complying with whatever the law is under FDA?”
The one-size-fits all approach by FDA is disappointing, said Joel Nelsen, president of Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual. He said while the rule talks about science- and risk-based regulation, the rule includes citrus, which Nelsen said is the least-risky commodity.
In Florida, Reggie Brown, executive vice president of the Maitland-based Florida Tomato Exchange, said he believes the effect of the produce safety regulation will be minor on Florida tomato growers because they successfully lobbied for similar food safety production standards at the state level.
Fairness of the regulation is also a concern for the import community.
“One of our main concerns is that hoping that imports are not treated any differently than domestic produce, that it is held to the same standard and the standards are science-based,” said Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas in Nogales, Ariz.
Jungmeyer said stressed federal budgets could tempt FDA to make up shortfalls by assigning fees to imports.
“To me, that would amount to a food tax.”
Companies are already facing costs just to comply with food safety mandates, so further fees aren’t acceptable, he said.