FDA has proposed extending initial compliance dates for the agricultural water requirements included in the agency’s new produce safety rule by an additional two years.
If accepted — the rule is open for public comment — that would give farmers at least four more years until they have to comply with the water standards.
The produce safety rule is one of seven created by FDA to comply with the Food Safety Modernization Act and is the most concerning for many farmers.
They are particularly concerned about the produce safety rule’s agricultural water standards, which will require farmers to test their water regularly for potentially harmful bacteria.
Produce that is likely to be consumed raw is covered by this rule.
The new water standard compliance date for large farms would begin Jan. 26, 2022, small farms would have until Jan. 26, 2023, and very small farms would have until Jan. 26, 2024.
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told state ag department directors during their annual meeting last month that the agency is taking another look at the agricultural water standards to ensure they are feasible for farmers and will hold a summit on the issue early next year.
The agricultural water requirements are by far farmers’ main concern when it comes to the FSMA rules, said Idaho State Department of Agriculture Chief of Staff Pamm Juker.
“The water component is the big issue,” she said, and farmers are wanting to know if they can collaborate on collecting water testing samples.
That hasn’t been decided yet but researchers are trying to make the case that farmers should be allowed to share water samples, said Stuart Reitz, an Oregon State University cropping systems extension agent in Ontario.
He said OSU researchers have collected data the past two years that shows that makes sense for growers and will share that data with FDA.
He said the testing will be expensive for growers and allowing them to share samples will reduce that cost.
“We hope to save growers time and money,” he said.
The agency has also extended its approved water testing methods from one to nine.
That was a big announcement, Reitz said, because the rule originally only allowed growers to use a single EPA-approved method that would have been more expensive than some other water testing methods.
Some of the newly approved water testing methods are ones already being used by many farmers in their Good Agricultural Practices audits, he said.
FDA has also announced that inspections of large farms for all of FSMA’s other, non-water related food safety regulations won’t begin until spring of 2019, more than a year later than originally scheduled.
Gottlieb said the agency would also consider how it can simplify some of the produce safety rule’s other standards.
“The truth is, there are things we’ve done well in getting this rule ready for prime time but there are also things that may require a course correction,” he said.