Mateusz Perkowski/Capital Press
On-farm hazelnut and hop driers will likely escape federal regulations for food processing facilities but the fate of mint stills remains unknown, experts say.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is leaning toward excluding on-farm drying facilities from its proposed rules for processors under the Food Safety Modernization Act.
Under the latest proposed revision to the food manufacturer regulations, the FDA considers drying to be part of the harvesting process, said Stephanie Page, food safety and animal health director at the Oregon Department of Agriculture.
That point is significant because the FDA requires manufacturers to develop preventive control plans to mitigate risks and increase their analysis of hazards, which would be burdensome for farmers.
The original rules for manufacturers didn’t specifically exempt drying facilities, which worried the hazelnut industry, said Mike Klein, executive director of the Oregon Hazelnut Marketing Board.
Increased plantings of hazelnuts in recent years will spur demand for new on-farm drying facilities, but greater government scrutiny might dissuade growers from building them, he said.
“We don’t want anything to happen to discourage that, because it’s a crucial step in the harvest process,” Klein said.
Hop drying and baling would also be excluded from food manufacturer regulations, but the industry is still concerned that the crop hasn’t been specifically exempt from FDA’s proposed produce safety rules.
Those rules require irrigation water testing and other practices that don’t make sense for a beer-making input, said Ann George, administrator of the Hop Growers of America trade group.
“Nobody is going to take hops and chomp down on them for snack food,” she said. “There is no necessity for the added layer of regulation on hops.”
It’s also unclear whether on-farm distilling of mint oil will be covered by the food manufacturing rules.
Mint oil is a food ingredient and undergoes further processing before it’s consumed, so distilling should be considered a part of harvesting, said Bryan Ostlund, administrator of the Oregon Mint Commission.
The oil is naturally anti-microbial and high-pressure steam distilling kills pathogens, he said. “I don’t think anything can survive that process.”
Growers want mint stills excluded from the processing rules to avoid unnecessary audits and recordkeeping requirements, Ostlund said.
“The label of being food processing takes you into a whole new world of regulation and headaches,” he said.
The FDA’s manufacturer regulations have convinced I.P. Callison & Sons, a mint oil supplier in Lacey, Wash., to hire additional staff for internal audits and recordkeeping, said Les Toews, the company’s vice president of purchasing.
“It’s terribly expensive,” he said. “For us, it seems sort of silly.”
If the FDA does extend processing regulations to on-farm mint stills, growers who already have implemented “good agricultural practices” on their farms will adjust to the rules more easily, Toews said.
I.P. Callison & Sons can provide farmers with check box forms to ensure they’re complying with the rules, he said. “If it becomes mandatory, we’re in good shape to get that program in place.”
A spokesperson for FDA said the agency will consider all industry comments and address them in the final food safety rules.