Heeding the call from many in the industry, the Food and Drug Administration said it will take another run at proposed rules on produce safety and preventive controls at food facilities.
In a Dec. 19 statement from Mike Taylor, FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods, said that the agency would publish revised proposed rule language by early summer 2014 for the produce safety and preventive controls rules. The agency will then take public comments on the revised proposed rules, he said.
The revised proposed rules will specifically address what Taylor called key provisions affecting both large and small farmers. The FDA will change its approach, he said.
“The new safety standards must be flexible enough to accommodate reasonably the great diversity of the produce sector, and they must be practical to implement,” he said.
Those provisions in the regulations that will be revised include water quality standards and testing, standards for using raw manure and compost, certain provisions affecting mixed-use facilities, and procedures for withdrawing the qualified exemption for certain farms, according to Taylor’s statement.
“We have heard the concern that these provisions, as proposed, would not fully achieve our goal of implementing the law in a way that improves public health protections while minimizing undue burden on farmers and other food producers,” he said.
Taylor did not say when the final rules would be issued, but the U.S. District Court in Northern California has ruled the FDA must produce final regulations on food safety by June 30, 2015.
In the Food Safety Modernization Act, Congress gave FDA until July 2012 to finalize food safety rules and the FDA was sued by the Center for Food Safety when it missed those deadlines.
The decision by FDA to issue a second set of proposed rules was welcomed by produce industry leaders.
“It has been pretty much universal across the produce industry that these were the areas where FDA needed to come up with a better alternative,” said Dave Gombas, senior vice president for food safety for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association. “They are giving us exactly what we asked for.”
Meg Miller, director of public relations for Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association, said in a statement that PMA commends FDA for “listening to and acknowledging significant concerns” raised by produce industry leaders about the proposals issued in January 2013.
Ferd Hoefner, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition policy director, also expressed support for the FDA decision.
“Thousands of sustainable and organic farmers and local food system entrepreneurs responded with deep concerns to the original proposed rules FDA issued to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act,” he said in a release. “We commend FDA for listening carefully to those concerns and coming to the proper conclusion that significant changes are needed.”
Gombas said broad Congressional support for a second draft of the safety rules, expressed in a late November letter to agency officials, was a clear indication that another set of draft rules was likely.
Gombas said the comment period remains open for the foreign supplier verification and third party accreditation, while pending rules for intentional contamination and for sanitary transportation under review at the Office of Management and Budget.