NOTHING in the agricultural regulatory arena has come close to the magnitude of changes offered under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
The Food & Drug Administration has proposed a suite of seven different rules -- ranging from animal feed to human food, transportation and sanitation -- to help improve the nation's food safety system.
However, with the hundreds upon hundreds of pages of proposed rules, the number-one achievement will be to get it right. This, in turn, will foster an environment that actually improves food safety while not creating a regulatory mess.
Bob Ehart, senior policy and science adviser at the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, said as his group digs deeper into the proposed rule, its potential regulatory impact remains unknown.
The industry, as a whole, has seen its share of food safety events that everyone wants to move past, but Ehart noted, "Overall, we have arguably the safest food supply system in the world." When you look at the regulations FDA proposed, though, is food safety the true end goal?
"We do not believe forcing production of food and feed overseas is a good ultimate answer," he said. "As FDA's regulations became known, is this creating a regulatory nightmare instead of a program to help us ensure food safety?"
Ehart said FSMA has provided opportunities for dialogues among state experts to address issues that have arisen within the proposed regulations. The work of making sure FSMA is done properly also has set up an improved integrated network among federal, state and local experts.
"The safety of our food supply is pretty sacred, and it's imperative that we have those dialogues," he added.
Richard Sellers, senior vice president of legislative and regulatory affairs at the American Feed Industry Assn., said very little examination of the costs associated with FSMA implementation has occurred.
FDA estimates that the proposed animal feed rule will cost $87-129 million per year, not counting about $17 million in further costs from other regulatory options FDA may add to the final rule.
Sellers said some in the industry estimate that costs could reach $250-300 million because companies will need to hire someone solely focused on FSMA compliance.
A study on the animal feed rule from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University suspects that the overall costs to society have been understated. The report notes that manufacturers "have the food safety problem very much in control," and FDA may require ineffective activities that would replace effective activities, which, in turn, could make animal food less safe.
"Much of the cost is likely to be passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices. With benefits no greater than $16.9 million annually, the problem the regulation seeks to address is just not big enough to warrant such a costly regulation," the report notes.
Comments on the proposal likely will cite the Mercatus study as well as other on-the-ground insight into the major overhaul of food safety rules.
In the end, everyone wants to help raise the bar, but the key will be to do it in a manner that upholds the intent of Congress while not putting superfluous regulations on food producers.