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Ag departments seek more input on food safety rules

Sean Ellis
State department of agriculture directors from across the nation are asking Congress to allow the federal Food and Drug Administration to issue a second draft of its proposed new food safety rules for public comment.

A group representing all 50 state departments of agriculture is asking the Food and Drug Administration to issue a second draft of its proposed new food safety rules for public comment.

The deadline to comment on the proposed rules is Nov. 15, and FDA officials have indicated they will alter the rules, which implement the Food Safety Modernization Act.

National Association of State Departments of Agriculture members unanimously agreed during a recent meeting to ask the FDA for a second comment period.

That would assure producers have adequate due process before the rules are adopted, said Oregon Department of Agriculture Director Katy Coba, chairwoman of NASDA’s food regulation and nutrition committee.

She said NASDA members support the goals and eventual implementation of FSMA, but it’s imperative the FDA get the rules right.

“These rules must be workable for agriculture and reflect the realities of food production,” she said.

ODA communications director Bruce Pokarney believes most farmers understand the proposed rules are meant to protect the public and reduce the potential of food illnesses.

“But it’s the way you go about it and putting together a system that works well for everyone,” he said. “It has to be well-thought-out and not rushed. Let’s take the time needed to get them right.”

The FDA is under a court mandate to publish the final rules by June 2015. NASDA members want Congress to allow FDA to postpone finalization of the rules until a second draft can be published for public input.

The Washington State Department of Agriculture hasn’t taken an official stance on the proposed rules, said communications director Hector Castro.

“But the director has been pretty vocal in suggesting that growers have the opportunity to provide input and have an effect on the ultimate rule they do come out with,” he said.

During and after an August visit of the Pacific Northwest to hear directly from farmers how the proposed rules would impact them, FDA officials said the rules would likely be altered.

“That begs the question, ‘What are they going to replace it with?’” said Idaho Water Users Association Executive Director Norm Semanko, who is helping lead an effort between Idaho water delivery groups and farmers to comment on the rules. “I’m sure our guys will want the opportunity to comment on that.”

Semanko said Idaho producers are putting together data that will tell a story of how the proposed rules would impact farmers. For example, he said, surface irrigation water in Idaho and eastern Oregon could not meet the water quality standards in FDA’s proposed produce safety rule.

The data and comments being put together by an ad hoc committee will very clearly show that, Semanko said.

“It’s pretty self-explanatory,” he said. “There’s no way to meet the standard. It ain’t going to happen.”



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