The comment period for an environmental analysis of the Food Safety Modernization Act has been extended.

Comments on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Notice of Intent to Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for the Proposed Rule: Standards for Growing, Harvesting, Packing and Holding of Produce for Human Consumption may now be received until March 15, according to an FDA news release.

The original deadline was Nov. 15.

The FDA, realizing that FMSA could change growing practices more than first anticipated, announced in August the need for an environmental impact statement.

Comments from the industry and the FDA’s own analysis spurred the decision to conduct the environmental review, because the rule could change the way fertilizer, pesticides and other inputs are used, according to an FDA news release.

Some irrigation practices that use surface water are unlikely to meet the proposed microbial standards for much, if not all, of the growing season.

Also on Nov. 15, the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association and the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association submitted comments to the FDA.

In its comments, PMA emphasized the importance of science- and risk-based regulations for companies of all sizes throughout the supply chain, according to an association news release.

PMA also encourages the FDA to strengthen enforcement and reduce confusion by better aligning the two rules’ requirements, and requests the agency’s consideration of a second comment period after rules are revised.

“PMA strongly supports advancing produce safety including FSMA implementation,” Bob Whitaker, PMA’s chief science and technology officer, said in the release. “Our goal is to help ensure the final rules protect the public health of all consumers who receive food products from all market channels in ways practical and efficient for produce industry members.”

In its comments, United Fresh voiced its concern for the “one-size-fits-all” approach to diverse fruit and vegetable growing, packing and handling operations, according to an association news release.

United’s comments also address the issues of irrigation water testing requirements, applying appropriate regulatory standards and the definition of farm and farming activities.

“There is nothing more important than advancing food safety in fresh produce, and these proposed rules are an important milestone in that mission,” United Fresh’s president and chief executive officer, Tom Stenzel, said in the release. “United Fresh continues to support the public health goals of the FSMA law and is committed to working closely with the FDA to ensure that the regulations can be implemented in the most practical and efficient way possible.”