By: Michael R. Taylor
The comment period for the proposed produce safety rule closed on Friday, Nov. 22, but this is far from the end of FDA’s collaboration on produce safety with growers, the food industry, and consumers. FDA will continue to engage stakeholders, and we are committed to engagement through a final rule’s ultimate implementation.
The proposed produce safety rule is an important part of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), along with new measures to prevent problems in food processing facilities and strengthen our assurances that imported foods meet U.S. safety standards. When finalized, the produce rule will set science-based standards for the safe production and harvesting of fruits and vegetables, whether grown here or in another country. It’s crucial for all concerned that the final rule be both right for food safety and as practical and feasible as possible for the many produce operations involved in supplying fresh fruits and vegetables to America’s consumers.
To help get the rules right, my team and I have traveled our country to get input from the people who will be most affected and have the greatest expertise. Just in recent months, we have traveled to the Pacific Northwest, New England, Michigan, and California. We’ve toured all kinds of farms, from small ones that have been in the family for generations and grow many different crops, to huge farms that grow one crop. We’ve visited food hubs, roadside stores and irrigation districts. We’ve been joined by staffers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, extension agents, state agriculture commissioners and others. And there have been hundreds of listening sessions in which we’ve heard people speak frankly about their concerns about the proposed new requirements. What I want to say first to all the people we met and all those who have submitted comments is simply this:
The people I’ve met in all parts of the produce supply chain take great pride in the quality of their work and are committed to food safety. But they also feel that some parts of the produce rule as drafted won’t work, and they went to considerable effort – taking time out of their day, traveling to where we were, and waiting to speak to us – to help us understand their concerns. Particular concerns include the requirements that would affect irrigation water and the use of manure to fertilize crops. They also told us about parts of the rule with which they fully agree and want to be sure stay in place.
We now turn to the deliberations needed to craft a final rule, based on the thousands of written comments submitted to FDA and the input we received in our travels. While some concerns may be addressed through more precise language, others may need more changes, and a few may require substantial changes in what we’ve proposed. Rest assured that we will carefully consider these concerns and do whatever is possible to get these rules right.
FDA will also engage stakeholders in the eventual implementation of the final rules. This includes continuing to work with the Produce Safety Alliance, state agriculture departments, and others in the produce community on education, training and technical assistance to support implementation by growers. They won’t be going it alone.
Keeping our food supply safe is FDA’s ultimate goal – and it’s a goal we know is shared widely by farmers, food distributors, and marketers throughout the food system. In field and factory, at the local food system level and over long supply chains, good people are working hard to keep your food safe. We look forward to an enduring partnership with this community as we work to finalize and implement the produce safety rule and the other important elements of the modern food safety system envisioned by FSMA.
Michael R. Taylor is FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine