January 13, 2014

Food Safety Need Not Cripple Production

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

Just before the end of the year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) took a welcome step in announcing it would revise provisions of its proposed fresh produce rules that have been of concern due to the potential placement of unnecessary, costly burdens on certain farming operations, probable impacts on conservation efforts and more.  This provides an opportunity to go in a different direction andhelp ensure that new food safety measures fix problems without crippling production.

On January 4, 2013, the FDA issued a proposed rule for growing, harvesting, packing and holding fresh produce.  Among its requirements, the proposed rule would require weekly testing of all agricultural water at a cost of $35 to $40 per week.  The FDA estimates that the cost of implementing this rule would cost a producer approximately $5,000 to $30,600 per farm, depending on size, with a total industry cost of $460 million.  The rule was created pursuant to the 2011 enactment of the Food Safety Modernization Act, which was driven by concerns with high profile incidents of food contamination. 

While I support ensuring the safety of our water and food supplies, we must also ensure that any needed changes reasonably address the problem without burdening producers with additional unnecessary paperwork and costs.  Unfortunately, the proposed rule did not achieve that goal.  Due to these concerns, I joined fellow Idaho Senator Jim Risch in introducing the Stopping Costly Regulations Against Produce (SCRAP) Act as an amendment to the Senate version of the 2013 Farm Bill.  This amendment would have defunded the FDA's proposed rule.  Unfortunately, the amendment was not allowed a vote during consideration of the bill.  More recently, I wrote the FDA, urging them to release a second set of proposed rules before finalizing the current one.  Previously, the FDA extended the comment period on the proposed rules to November 15, 2013. 

Now, in its most recent announcement, the FDA indicates that significant changes will be needed in key provisions, including water quality standards and testing, of the two proposed rules affecting small and large farmers.  FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine Michael Taylor stated, "Based on our discussions with farmers, the research community and other input we have received, we have learned a great deal, and our thinking has evolved . . . We have heard the concern that these provisions, as proposed, would not fully achieve our goal of implementing the law in a way that improves public health protections while minimizing undue burden on farmers and other food producers."  The FDA indicates that it plans to publish revised proposed rule language by early summer 2014, it will accept additional comment on the revised sections of the proposed rule, and there may be other revisions to the proposed rules.  

This is an important and welcome step to correct the direction of the proposed rules, and we must remain engaged to ensure that any new regulations achieve food safety goals without hindering agricultural production.  I encourage all those affected by the proposed rules to continue to share your input and voice any concerns throughout the process. 

# # #

Word Count:  517