The May 16 deadline for comments on the Food and Drug Administration’s proposed produce safety and preventive controls rules looms larger and larger on the calendar.

Close to 100 produce associations asked the FDA, in an April 11 letter to Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, to extend the comment period for the agency’s two FSMA rules well beyond May 16.

The letter makes a convincing argument.

First, both rules are hundreds of pages long, and the agency asks for responses from the industry and other stakeholders in dozens of questions interspersed throughout the rules.

Perhaps the most convincing argument is the fact that the two produce rules published so far must be viewed in context with other rules that have not yet seen the light of day. The produce groups asked for a comment period that will end six months after the FDA publishes pending proposed regulations for the Foreign Supplier Verification Program, Preventive Controls for Animal Feed, and Accredited Third Party Certification.

The agency should not consider the May 16 deadline as sacred as a self-important professor may regard a project due date in his class at State College. The stakes are much higher than that.

Considering their own shifting and tardy timeline for issuing the proposed food safety regulations, the FDA should extend the comment period so all stakeholders can give their most informed input on what will ultimately be the biggest change ever in produce safety oversight.

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