Greg Johnson, EditorNEW ORLEANS — While much work has been made on the Food Safety Modernization Act, a growing number of produce groups are urging a delay and second comment period when the current one ends in a few weeks.
Some critics are tougher than others.
“The FDA clearly lacks training and resources to fully implement FSMA,” Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said Oct. 19 at Fresh Summit.
“It’ll make the rollout of Obamacare look like a well-oiled machine.”
That was spoken like one of the president’s detractors in the GOP-majority House of Representatives, of which Putnam was a member from 2001-11.
Trying to keep politics out of the food safety debate, I talked with ag commissioners from Florida, Georgia and Louisiana at Fresh Summit, and all three were strongly in favor of extending the comment period to a second one after this one ends and the Food and Drug Administration makes amendments.
Without a second comment period, FDA is on track to amend, publish in the Federal Register and then phase in the new rules over the next few years.
November sees the close to the FDA’s comment period on four proposed rules:
- standards for growing, harvesting, packing and holding produce;
- preventive controls;
- third-party auditor accreditation; and
- foreign supplier verification programs.
Putnam said the produce industry needs to be able to comment on the new rules.
Mike Strain, Louisiana’s ag commissioner, said implementing rules without a second comment period has the potential to put heavy strain on his state’s growers in terms of economics, labor and environment.
“Small farmers may quit or there may be noncompliance issues,” he said.
One grower I talked to the week after Fresh Summit felt the strain of an FDA audit.
Matt Solana, vice president of operations and supply chain management for Jackson’s Farming Co., Autryville, N.C., said FDA did an audit earlier this year looking for listeria and found none on product or the facility.
But he said it’s not like a USDA inspection, where the inspectors know the produce business. FDA inspectors do not understand farm conditions, he said.
He said the company has spent about $500,000 this year updating its packing line and about $1.3 million in the past five years.
“We went from packing in a barn to looking like an operating room,” Solana said.
But he said the company lost money in the cantaloupe deal this year. The company will decide in a month or two if it’s planting cantaloupes for 2014.