A late-blooming plan to ease the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s current rulemaking to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) has picked up a powerful lobbying ally.
The Hagstrom Report, the digital agricultural news service available by subscription, on Wednesday reported that the United Fresh Produce Association (UFPA) is getting behind an effort to remake the rules before they go final.
The idea came out of the annual meeting last month of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA), the nonprofit organization representing top agricultural officials in the 50 states and four U.S. territories.
Tom Stenzel, president of the produce association, said the group wants FDA to issue revised proposals before going to final rules.
The Hagstrom Report stated that Stenzel was prepared to deliver that message to Mike Taylor, FDA’s deputy commission for food. Taylor, however, was prevented from speaking to the trade association’s meeting on Wednesday in Washington, D.C., because of the government shutdown.
NASDA and UFPA are both concerned mostly about the Produce Safety and Preventive Control rules that are currently in draft form and subject to comments until Nov. 15. Domestic produce growers are questioning whether they will be on a level playing field with importers if food brokers are allowed to verify good food coming into the country.
The rule package needed to implement the FSMA, which was signed into law by President Obama in January 2011, also includes Animal Feed, Import, and Third-Party Verification segments.
Stenzel says the plan being advanced by the state agricultural directors and the produce industry is not a delaying tactic, but a way of working through the extensive comments and complexity confronting FDA. He said revision of the rule package “would give everyone a chance to see what they have changed.”
In a statement, the produce association said that with “the most profound regulatory overhaul of food safety rules in some 70 years, it’s critical that FDA get this right.”
Taking more time might require Congress to tweak the time schedule contained in the FSMA. A federal judge already rapped FDA for failing to meet the original timeline and set a new deadline of June 30, 2015, for implementing the new rules. That’s three years later than originally envisioned by lawmakers.
This year will likely be the fifth consecutive year that the UFPA has spent $1 million or more lobbying in Washington, D.C. The group’s activity won big dividends for members in the form of larger purchases of fruits and vegetables by the federal government under nutrition programs and helped kill produce inspection that was done by a handful of states with USDA funding. In addition to association staff lobbyists, UFPA also uses the lobbying shop known as the Russell Group.
Taylor’s response to these developments might have to wait until Congress and the president come to agreement on getting the government back to work.© Food Safety News