By CELESTE BAUMGARTNER
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has released proposed rules detailing standards for produce safety and preventive controls for human food production.
“A little over two years ago, President Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) into law,” said Ariane Lotti, assistant policy director, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition ((NSAC).
“Essentially, that law is the first significant overhaul of our nation’s food safety laws since the 1930s. The primary regulations coming from that new law have to do with produce standards, how growers grow produce for harvest and consumption.”
The new regulations try to address high-risk practices to decrease microbial pathogen contamination in, primarily, fresh produce, Lotti said. In the past there have been significant outbreaks of pathogens such as E. Coli involving spinach and other leafy greens.
“As proposed, the rules now address a few key areas,” she said. “One of them is the quality of the water that farmers use to irrigate crops; the other is hygiene of farm workers and others who handle the produce directly. Another is the quality of the soil and any sorts of manures or composts that are used in production.
“There is a significant component of training so that all of these practices can be learned in the field.”
There are also standards concerning the encroachment of wildlife and animals onto fields, Lotti said. They are believed to be vectors for pathogens like E. Coli even though that is not yet fully clear.
The preventive controls rule is focused more on facilities that manufacture and process food, she said. One of the main concerns with that new rule is the degree to which it affects on-farm processing.
“Farms don’t just produce food, a lot of them also process foods,” Lotti said. “Many newer, smaller businesses add value to their crops through on-farm processing. The question we are trying to weed through in that new rule, particularly, is a farm now considered a facility that manufactures and processes food?”
It could be costly for a small or mid-sized farm to put these preventive control measures into practice. Congress did include certain considerations for small and mid-sized farms in the FSMA, yet defining small and mid-sized farms can be tricky, Lotti said.
“The basic premise behind it is that, for small farms and farms that sell directly to consumers within a certain radius and have the majority of their food sold directly to consumers, they are potentially exempt from the federal regulations,” she said. “Instead, they have to meet local and state equivalent regulations and show that they are able to trace back where the produce is from.”
The FDA is responsible for enforcing these new rules. The biggest challenge now is finding the means to do that; it does not have any additional funding to use for implementing the rules.
These rules will impact small and mid-sized farms that process food on the farm, and essentially anyone who grows produce for human consumption and produce. These are significant new regulations, Lotti said.
“We encourage farmers to get involved in reviewing and commenting on the rules, and within the next month or so, we should have a complete analysis available on our website,” she explained.
For a listing and summary of the new rules visit www.fda.gov
Additionally, the NSAC website is at www.sustainableagriculture.net