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California Farmers To Study Food Safety Rules

By Kate Campbell
Calif. Farm Bureau
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Representatives of farm and produce-business organizations promise a thorough review of proposed federal food-safety regulations unveiled recently by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In California, analysts say they’ll focus on any differences between the proposed FDA rules and practices already being followed by California farmers and produce packers.

“California has taken the lead in developing food safety practices for fresh produce, and in many ways these proposed rules build on what our farmers are already doing,” says Josh Rolph, California Farm Bureau Federation international trade and farm policy director.

But he adds that the fresh-produce rule alone totals nearly 550 pages, and “the devil is in the details.”

“It’s entirely possible the proposed FDA rules go beyond what we’re doing, but we’ll need to thoroughly review these rules to figure out what they include and how they may impact California agriculture,” he says.

The FDA released two proposed rules intended to help implement the Food Safety Modernization Act, which Congress passed in 2010. Public comment on the proposals will be accepted during the next 120 days.

Food Safety Is A Priority

The first proposed rule would require food makers to develop formal plans for preventing foodborne illness and to have plans for correcting any problems. The rule would apply to food to be sold in the U.S. whether produced at a foreign or domestic facility.

The FDA proposes that manufacturers be in compliance with the new rules one year after they become final, but says small and very small businesses would be given additional time.

The second proposed rule includes what the FDA calls enforceable safety standards for production and harvesting of produce on farms using science- and risk-based standards.

The rule sets standards for what the FDA describes as “identified routes of microbial contamination of produce,” including agricultural water; biological soil amendments of animal origin; health and hygiene; animals in the growing area; and equipment, tools and buildings.

Larger farms would need to be in compliance with most of the produce safety requirements 26 months after the rule becomes final. Small and very small farms would have additional time to comply – and all farms would have additional time to comply with certain requirements related to water quality, FDA says.

Programs Already In Place

In California, producers of leafy greens, tomatoes and cantaloupes have all implemented programs that require government inspectors to audit farms and packing facilities to ensure compliance with food-safety practices.

The president and CEO of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, Scott Horsfall, says California leafy-greens producers “are accustomed to operating under a system where food is produced with mandatory government oversight to provide a safe product for consumers.”

A spokesman for the United Fresh Produce Association, Ray Gilmer, says his organization will analyze the proposed rules to make sure they follow principles that produce-business groups supported throughout development of the Food Safety Modernization Act. He says rules should be commodity-specific, based on the best available science, risk-based, consistent no matter where produce is grown or packaged and flexible “to allow for advances in science and production technology.”

Special Exceptions

The proposed rules would not apply to produce used for personal or on-farm consumption or commercial processing that adequately reduces the presence of microorganisms, and it would not cover farms with $25,000 or less in sales during a three-year period.

“We know one-size-fits-all rules won’t work,” FDA Deputy Comm-issioner Michael Taylor says. “We’ve worked to develop proposed regulations that can be effective and practical across today’s diverse food system.”

Kate Campbell is an assistant editor of Ag Alert for the California Farm Bureau Federation. She may be contacted at kcampbell@cfbf.com.

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