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Farmers weigh in on new food safety rules … express concerns about the regulatory process

Foodborne illnesses are always a concern in the U.S. food supply. E. coli and salmonella are among the outbreaks we’ve become fairly used to hearing about in the news. FoodFacts.com follows food recalls on our website to keep our community notified of issues with specific products that often include foodborne illnesses. In January of 2011 the firm major reform of food safety laws in seven decades was enacted. The Food Safety Modernization Act was passed with the purpose of making food safer and reducing foodborne illness. It’s been two years and the FDA has put forward a draft for the new rules which has been open for public comment.

According to the Farm Bureau, however, the new regulations may just be too broad to do this job the way it needs to be done. Farmers have very specific concerns with the new regulations and believe that the FDA seems to be unwilling to focus specifically on the commodities that are most often associated with foodborne illness.

“We urge the FDA to reconsider standards that take into account the relative risks and comparative benefits associated with individual commodities. The FDA should initially propose regulations for only those commodities with a history of microbial contamination,” the Farm Bureau wrote in lengthy comments recently submitted to the FDA.

Only once those regulations are successfully put in place and enforced, should the FDA even consider expanding regulations to cover other commodities.

“We know that there have been problems with E. coli in leafy greens or with salmonella in tomatoes, for example, and the industry has voluntarily taken the initiative to curb some of those problems,” said Kelli Ludlum, American Farm Bureau Federation food safety specialist. “That’s where it really makes sense for FDA to focus their efforts. Unfortunately, they’ve chosen to go significantly broader than that and regulate a whole scope of commodities that have never had foodborne illnesses, and, because of the way they’re grown and consumed, are very unlikely to have those issues.”

Including low- and no-contamination risk commodities is a waste of both growers’ and the governments’ time and money.

“Instead of shrinking the size of the haystack in which they’re looking for that public health threat needle, by choosing to regulate all produce, they’re only making that haystack bigger, which neither farmers nor government inspectors and regulators have the resources for,” Ludlum said.

Specifically, because considerable changes to the draft rules are expected to be made as a result of public comments, the Farm Bureau believes a second draft of the proposed rule should be put out in order to work through the regulatory process adequately. Congressional lawmakers agree and are also calling for another round of comments. 30 senators and 45 House members said they were concerned about the impact of proposed rules on farmers and businesses that an additional comment period could help alleviate.

“We encourage the FDA to release a second draft of the combined produce safety, preventive controls for human food and animal feed, foreign supplier verification program and third-party audit certification rules to allow for sufficient review as to how all the rules are intended to work together,” Farm Bureau wrote.

Farmers are clearly concerned by the possibility of over-regulation that may not be necessary to ensure the safety of the food supply. While new regulation has clearly been needed and food safety is of the utmost importance to all Americans, the Farm Bureau’s concerns certainly pose a significant question regarding the FDA’s overarching approach to the issue. Time and money are important resources for both the government and America’s farmers. We’d be happy to see a second round of public comments to help the FDA arrive at a sensible set of much needed food safety rules that work for the government, the growers and consumers.

http://fbnews.fb.org/Templates/Article.aspx?id=38139

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