WASHINGTON — Farmers are skeptical of a proposed federal rule aimed at helping keeping the nation’s produce safe.
Ohio Farm Bureau members heard Tuesday from the Food and Drug Administration about the proposed standards for produce safety under the Food Safety Modernization Act.
Regulators are beginning the process and taking comments on their proposal. The standards are meant to be flexible, science-based and risk-based, said Dr. Samir Assar, director of the produce safety staff with the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. They are not intended to be over-burdensome, Assar said.
Ralph Coffman, Washington County Farm Bureau president, said burdensome rules wouldn’t take an hour to explain.
“If there was a young farmer in this room thinking about growing fruits or vegetables, I bet he’s walking away,” Coffman said.
Congress passed the act and President Barack Obama signed it into law in 2011 after a number of foodborne illnesses in the country. The law mandates the FDA to switch from responding to outbreaks to preventing them.
The proposed standards would apply to farms that grow, harvest, pack or hold most fruits and vegetables when they are in their raw state. The rule would not apply to certain produce, such as potatoes, that is rarely consumed raw. It would not apply to very small farms (with sales of less than $25,000) or growers that sell directly to customers, such as at a farmers’ market.
The standards would regulate water used for growing; farm worker hygiene; manure or other additions to the soil; animals in growing areas; and equipment, tools and buildings.
Kelli Ludlum, a director of congressional relations with American Farm Bureau Federation, said her organization wants more clarity on the list of exempted farms and products. Farm Bureau also wanted the FDA to focus just on the five or six foods with the greatest concern and history of foodborne illness: leafy greens, tomatoes, strawberries, cantaloupes, green onions and sprouts.
Farm Bureau also is concerned about the FDA’s agricultural water standard. FDA is proposing standards for water that comes in contact with produce based on Environmental Protection Agency standards. Farm Bureau thinks the proposals are overly stringent, Ludlum said.
The FDA is accepting comments on proposed standards until May 16. People can see the rules and learn how to comment on them at www.fda.gov/fsma. The Ohio Farm Bureau is sending two people to testify Monday at an FDA hearing on the proposal in Chicago.
“This is an incredibly complex, lengthy rule,” Ludlum said. “Just figuring whether you’re in or out requires a four-page flow chart.”