FDA to revise food safety rules

Dec 20, 2013

The FDA plans to revise two controversial food safety rules, focusing, in part, on the produce industry.
The FDA plans to revise two controversial food safety rules, focusing, in part, on the produce industry.
Credit swanksalot/Flickr

The FDA plans to revise two controversial food safety rules, according to a statement regulators issued Thursday.

The rules, originally released in January, are aimed at preventing outbreaks of foodborne illness and at improving food safety in the produce industry. The FDA said it plans to revise the rules and issue another draft of them this summer.

“We believe that significant changes will be needed in key provisions of the two proposed rules affecting small and large farmers,” Michael Taylor, FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, wrote in the online statement and blog post that announced the rules would be revised. “These provisions include water quality standards and testing, standards for using raw manure and compost, certain provisions affecting mixed-use facilities, and procedures for withdrawing the qualified exemption for certain farms.”

The FDA said it decided to revise the rules because it had heard concerns that the provisions would not fully achieve the agency’s goal of improving public health while minimizing undue burdens on farmers and food producers.

“There may be other revisions to the proposed rules; the scope of the revised proposals, on which we will seek further comment, will be determined after we complete our initial review of written comments,” Taylor wrote.

There has been pushback to the proposed food safety rules, which are mandated by the Food Safety and Modernization Act that President Obama signed into law in 2011, from some elected officials and industry groups. Some opponents argued that complying with the new rules would have been overly burdensome for farms and businesses, especially the smaller ones. Last month, 75 congressmen, including Mo. Sen. Roy Blunt, signed onto a letter urging the FDA to allow the public more time to comment on the rules.

“I’m pleased the FDA has agreed to issue a second draft of proposed rules and give farmers and businesses the opportunity to provide additional input,” Blunt said in a press release Friday. Groups like the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture and United Fresh Produce Association had also asked the FDA to revise the rules.

"We are encouraged that FDA took seriously the extensive input they received from produce farmers and others in the agricultural sector with respect to the proposed Produce Safety and Preventive Controls rules," David Gombas, senior vice president of food safety and technology for United Fresh, said on the group’s web site. "We appreciate FDA's willingness to rethink these provisions and propose requirements that are more science and risk based. It is critical that FDA gets these FSMA rules right, and we believe this is a step in the right direction."

But others are frustrated by the delay.

“Farmers seem to want to ‘get on with this issue.’ They recognize it is important to address as retailers are asking for more local produce,” Jim Quinn, an educator with University of Missouri Extension, said in an email. “I had thought that finally this year there would be a chance to look at funding opportunities to assist us in extension to roll out trainings in this area. Looks like we can hit the snooze button on that!”

In July, the FDA issued a third rule under the Food Safety Modernization Act addressing the safety of imported food. And on Friday, FDA released another draft rule that requires large domestic and foreign facilities to have food safety plans in place that are meant to prevent acts of terrorism in the food supply. As per a California court decision focused on the FDA’s implementation delays of the Food Safety Modernization Act, the FDA had until Dec. 20 to publish the rule.