THE National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) is calling on Congress and the Food & Drug Administration to slow down implementation of new food safety rules in an effort to make sure FDA crafts a "sound and operable food safety program."
The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) signed into law in 2011 calls for rules governing produce safety, preventative controls, animal feed, import and third-party verification.
In August, FDA extended the comment period for human food and produce standard rules as well as called for comments on the interrelationships between those proposals first published in January 2013 and two new rules proposed in July on foreign supplier verifications on imported foods for humans and animals as well as third-party certification rules.
At its annual meeting, NASDA voted to ask FDA to propose a second draft of its rules implementing FSMA before issuing final regulations.
Oregon director of agriculture Katy Coba, chair of NASDA's Food Regulation & 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," Coba added. "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."
A statement from the United Fresh Produce Assn. said the group also has heard a "tremendous number of questions raised regarding the complexity of the proposed rules and whether some aspects of the regulations would truly enhance public health."
One of the many reasons FSMA was passed was to level the playing field between domestic and foreign producers. NASDA members said they are hearing from producers regarding fears that enforcement will be greater on domestic growers than producers of imported foods.
Both groups said they've appreciated the coordination between FDA and stakeholders.
"We appreciate that FDA is engaging all stakeholders in extensive dialogue and anticipate that the public record at the end of the current public comment period will be extensive," United Fresh said. "Therefore, we join NASDA in its conclusion that this is clearly a situation appropriate for FDA to study all of those public comments and then issue a revised proposed rule for comment before issuing a final rule."
North Carolina commissioner of agriculture and NASDA president Steve Troxler reiterated the importance of ensuring that these proposed food safety rules provide a commonsense framework for an integrated state/federal implementation of FSMA.
"We have appreciated FDA's willingness to meet one on one to hear many states' concerns," Troxler said. "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."