In January 2013, FDA proposed the Produce Safety Rule mandated by the 2011 FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). This rule will set science-based safety standards for the proposed regulations of particular concern relate to the quality of irrigation water.
Although this part of the country is high desert, we have been driving by acres and acres of farmland, lush with a great diversity of crops. And this bounty is only possible because of irrigation systems managed by and for growers. The contrast is stark when you see land that isn’t irrigated – it’s dry, brown and strewn with sagebrush.
Understandably then, farmers have questions and concerns about FDA’s proposed requirements governing irrigation water. Our goal at FDA is to enact food safety standards that are practical and work across a diversity of crops. As a result, we don’t take a “one-size-fits-all” approach to regulation. The rule provides growers the opportunity to use alternatives to some of our proposed standards for verifying that their irrigation practices are not introducing a food safety hazard.
That’s why we’re here—to see these farming operations first-hand and understand how water is being used to produce such major crops as onions, and apples and other tree fruits—crops that have a good food safety record. We are exploring how, through various approaches to alternatives and variances, we can satisfy the mandate of our new food safety law in a way that works under the conditions in the desert Northwest.
We are also assuring farmers that our proposed standards are very much works in progress. The public comment period for the Produce Safety Rule has been extended to Nov. 15, 2013. We want farmers and others to know that, after the comment period ends, we will have a lot of thinking to do, and we expect continuing collaboration for a long time to get the rules and their implementation right.
What we learn on this trip—and others like it—will guide us in creating the final version of the Produce Safety Rule. There is no substitute for talking to farmers, walking through fields and sharing meals with the people who actually produce our foods.
Our first stop was Idaho. We arrived yesterday—Aug. 11—in Boise and traveled by bus to the family farm of Clinton and Judy Wissel. Clinton is the president of the Idaho Onion Growers Association in addition to being the patriarch of this farming family.