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Consumer and Public Health Groups: FDA Should Not Delay FSMA Implementation

Opinion

(The FDA’s important food safety work, like the rest of the agency’s mission and much of the federal government, is currently on hold due to the government shutdown.  But once the agency gets back to work – which we hope is very soon – we urge them to continue to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act as expeditiously as possible.)

In 2010, Congress passed the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) with overwhelming bipartisan support. Passage of the legislation followed years of debate on how to improve our food safety system, numerous Congressional hearings, and media reports on dangerous foodborne illness outbreaks, which were sickening and killing consumers across the country.

After President Obama signed the bill into law in January 2011, consumer groups were hopeful that FDA would work swiftly to implement the law.  Prior to writing proposed rules, FDA made considerable efforts to gather stakeholder input, holding several public meetings and numerous interactions with food producers and other stakeholder groups. When FDA finally developed proposed rules on produce safety and preventive controls, the rules were reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget for over a year before they were released to the public. FDA again held public meetings and engaged stakeholders to solicit their input, even sending FDA officials on a cross-country tour to hear directly from food producers. The due date for public comment on the proposals was pushed back twice to accommodate industry requests and to allow time to review the proposed import rules.

Now, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) and others want FDA to delay implementation of these important rules even further and publish a second draft of proposed rules. NASDA raises concerns by producers in member states as one of the reasons to delay publication of a final regulation. Since FDA will undoubtedly be relying on NASDA members to help the agency enforce these rules at the state level, it alarms consumer and public health groups when those who are supposed to enforce regulations are advocating on behalf of the food producers who will be required to implement the regulations.

There are a number of issues and concerns in the proposed rules that FDA must address. Still, we believe that FDA needs to move forward without delay. In a decision of the federal district court, the judge said that FDA must finalize the proposed rules by mid-2015. This is a more than ample timeframe, and well past the statutory deadlines that Congress originally established in the law. Phased-in compliance dates within each rule will provide smaller producers with additional time – in some cases several more years – to implement the new regulations.

The public comment period provides all stakeholders with an opportunity to provide FDA with their best ideas, data, and suggestions for improving the rule. Then it’s up the agency to synthesize that input into a final regulation and to implement the law.  Delaying the process further ultimately means that consumers will continue to suffer illnesses and even deaths from contaminated food, which could have been averted by FSMA.

 

Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention

Center for Science in the Public Interest

Consumer Federation of America

Consumers Union

The Pew Charitable Trusts

National Consumers League

STOP Foodborne Illness

Trust for America’s Health

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