(UPDATED COVERAGE 4:30 p.m.) An alert from the Food and Drug Administration reports that problems have been resolved with the federal website where comments can be filed regarding proposed rules related to the Food Safety Modernization Act.
The e-mail alert was sent about 3:30 p.m. Eastern time on Nov. 12. The site had not been functioning since at least early morning.
The problems came with just four days left before the Nov. 15 comment deadline on the proposed produce safety rule.
"We are aware of the technical problems that regulations.gov has been experiencing, which has affected rulemaking government-wide," according to the alert. "This situation has prevented some people from filing comments electronically on the FSMA proposed rules for produce safety and preventive controls for human foods.
"Please note that the website is now up and running but that we will continue to monitor this situation. Your comments are important to us. Be assured that if technical issues should reoccur and you are unable to file your comments electronically by Friday, Nov. 15, we will find a way to ensure that your comments are received and considered."
Problems with the website at www.regulations.gov — which is used for a wide variety of topics, generally related to proposed rules published in the Federal Register — were reported by The Cornucopia Institute Nov. 12.
Food and Drug Administration officials are not responsible for maintaining the comment website. When contacted Nov. 12 they said they would check on the situation.
Ray Gilmer, vice president for issues management and communication for the United Fresh Produce Association, said the organization hadn’t heard about problems with the comment website until Nov. 12.
“It’s down all right, we can’t access it,” Gilmer said from his Washington D.C. office Nov. 12. “If it’s still down Friday (Nov. 15) we’ll just hand deliver our comments. We know where they live.”
Gilmer said the United Fresh comments have been finished “for some time now” but the association is waiting until the last day to file them to allow members of its working groups to provide additional input.
According to a news release from the Cornucopia, Wis.-based Cornucopia Institute, the comment website has had intermittent availability for several weeks.
“We have been working for months, as have many other organizations across the country, to raise public awareness of the Food Safety Modernization Act and the proposed rules developed to implement it,” Will Fantle, co-director of the institute said in the release.
Fantle said in the release in addition to periodic unavailability, the website has also been giving users odd messages in recent days.
"Citizens have reportedly been advised to resubmit any comments they might have posted, while other visitors to the website, in November, were greeted with a message that planned system maintenance was being conducted and would be completed by Aug. 6,” Fantle said in the release.
The institute sent a request to FDA deputy commissioner Mike Taylor on Nov. 12 asking for the comment deadline to be extended. The organization intends to file a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain details about the comment website problems. The group wants to know whether the site is handled by a third-party contractor and if so, whether it is the same contractor responsible for the government’s health care website.