“Get it right the first time, that’s the main thing” - Billy Joel.
In love and food safety regulations, getting it right the first time is the main thing. And some people believe that the Food and Drug Administration needs more much more time to produce acceptable results.
The Food and Drug Administration’s produce safety rule now has more than 1,300 comments, and some of those commenting are seeking a longer period for comments about the rule.
That could be a problem, considering the FDA is under the thumb of federal courts about the deadlines for finalizing the food safety rules.
Final regulations related to the food safety legislation are due by June 30, 2015. That ruling, from U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California Judge Phyllis Hamilton, was prompted by a lawsuit by the Center for Food Safety, an advocacy group that says FDA has illegally missed Congressional deadlines for food safety regulations mandated by the Food Safety Modernization Act. In that law, Congress had set July 2012 as the date food safety rules should be final.
In a Sept. 20 news release, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture said state agricultural officials from around the country voted unanimously to go to Congress and the FDA to assure adequate due process for the promulgation of FSMA rules.
From the release:
At the annual meeting of the NASDA supports the implementation of a food safety program and believes Congress should allow FDA to postpone finalization of this set of rules until a second draft of proposed rules can be published for public input.
NASDA members recognize the need to act swiftly to implement the law, which includes rules governing Produce Safety, Preventive Controls, Animal Feed, Import, and Third-Party Verification. However, given the complexity of the proposed rules, the current timeline may not allow FDA to craft a sound and operable food safety program.
Oregon Director of Agriculture Katy Coba, Chair of NASDA’s Food Regulation and Nutrition Committee, said, “Since FDA’s release of the rules earlier this year, NASDA members have been working diligently to review this necessary overhaul of America’s food safety regulatory system, but it is imperative we get this right. These rules must be workable for agriculture and reflect the realities of food production”
“I am learning from conversations with my fellow NASDA members that they too are concerned about the ability to enforce rules that are unclear,” said Coba. “Growers in my state are concerned about the complexity of following multiple rules and feel some alternatives might be a better way to proactively regulate certain commodities. We want to work with FDA and other stakeholders to get the rules right.”
One of the many reasons FSMA was passed was to level the field between domestic and foreign producers. NASDA members expressed concern they are hearing from producers regarding their fears that enforcement of domestic growers will be greater than imported food producers.
North Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler, NASDA President, hosted NASDA members in Asheville, North Carolina. As the chief regulator of North Carolina’s 52,000 farms, Troxler knows first-hand the importance of ensuring these proposed food safety rules provide a common sense framework for an integrated state-federal implementation of FSMA.
“We have appreciated FDA’s willingness to meet one-on-one to hear many state’s concerns,” said Troxler. “It is important that we continue these conversations so the FDA can hear concerns from real farmers across the country. Postponing these rules will allow needed time for FDA and the states to make progress on a state-federal partnership on food safety. This partnership must be in place before implementation begins.”Vermont Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross will make food safety a priority for the association during his tenure as the President of NASDA in the upcoming year.
“NASDA is fully committed to food safety and the successful implementation of FSMA,” said Ross. “We must take the time to get this right for the sake of our producers, processors and consumers. I look forward to working with our partners and consumer groups to engage Congress and FDA in developing an implementable food safety program.”
It is interesting to see that one of the major concerns expressed by NASDA members is equal treatment of domestic and imported producers. No doubt, representatives of importers and foreign producers have the same worry about the regulations, though viewed from the opposite perspective.
Given the court’s deadlines for the food safety regulations, Congressional action will be necessary to give the FDA a bigger window of time to “get it right the first time.”
Then again, asking Congress to get it right the second time may be asking too much.