Can the USDA oversee produce safety - or not? - The Packer

Can the USDA oversee produce safety - or not?

06/25/2009 12:51:11 PM
Tom Karst

 This comment was posted on the federal FDA docket /rulemaking related to the “Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables.” It was submitted by the Georgetown University linked O'Neill Institute regarding USDA AMS authority over food safety. It flatly challenges the authority of USDA to have any role in produce safety oversight.

Here is what the O’Neill Institute says on their Web site about who they are:

The O'Neill Institute draws on the expertise of nationally and internationally recognized experts on law and health. Affiliated faculty come from a variety of academic and research fields covering multiple disciplines. Below is a partial list of Institute faculty, staff, and fellows. This list is ever-growing, but provides an overview of the Institute's diverse capacity.  Recognizing the intellectual breadth of Georgetown University, the Institute is continually conducting outreach to faculty and institutions across campuses. In an effort to explore and build a diverse portfolio of health law projects, it is vital to create collaborative relationships with faculty who possess a diverse set of interests nd expertise.

Some excerpts from the comment:

TO: The Produce Safety Project
DATE: June 8, 2009

RE: USDA Authority regarding produce safety

This memorandum reviews the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s authority over produce safety. It provides an overview of the activities within the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) that may relate to the oversight of produce, in particular, produce safety.

In general, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has no authority to enforce safety standards and take action to remove unsafe produce from the market; that authority rests with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Numerous USDA agencies such as the Farm Service Agency (FSA), the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS),2 and the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), operate as service providers for the agricultural sector (e.g., responding to farmers’ financial, marketing, and trade issues, and protection of plant and animal health), rather than as bodies that enforce safety requirements.
Because of their association with agriculture, these agencies do administer programs that pertain to fresh produce. This memorandum will focus on AMS, which is the agency that works most directly with fresh produce. FDA, not AMS, has the legal authority to regulate produce safety.
In recent testimony before Congress, the Acting AMS Administrator reiterated this fact, stating that “FDA is the federal agency with primary responsibility for the food safety of fruits and vegetables. . . . AMS is not a food safety agency.” 

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