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FDA Cites Need to Coordinate with Marketing Agreements on Food Safety

Opinion

(This blog post by Scott Horsfall was published May 2, 2014, on the California Leafy Greens Products Handler Marketing Agreement site and is posted here with permission.)

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently released its Operational Strategy for Implementing the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The document lays out the agency’s broad strategy for overseeing implementation of FSMA’s new rules for food safety on farms and in facilities. The release of this report begins to answer the questions many in the produce industry have had about just how the FSMA rules will be implemented and verified.

In the document, FDA acknowledges the “burgeoning scale and complexity of the food system,” and the agency stresses the need to coordinate and collaborate with “multiple public and private sources, including FDA and partner agencies, USDA audits, marketing agreements and private audits.” The agency also recognizes that it is unlikely to have the resources available to “make routine on-farm inspection a major source of accountability for compliance.”

Once again, the leafy greens farming communities of California and Arizona find themselves in agreement with FDA’s approach to food safety, and we are pleased to see the inclusion of marketing agreements in the list of groups with which the agency will work on implementation.

As we have many times over the past two years, the industry offers solutions to many of the implementation challenges facing FDA. Through the California and Arizona Leafy Greens Marketing Agreements (LGMA), growers and handlers who produce 90 percent of the nation’s lettuce, spinach and other leafy greens have invited government oversight of food safety programs on to their farms. For seven years, regular and random government audits have been verifying that industry members are following science-based practices designed to protect public health. The LGMA requirements align closely with the goals of the proposed food safety rules under FSMA. This is the kind of accountability FDA is looking for under FSMA.

The LGMA has proposed that FDA work closely with existing government food safety programs like the LGMAs when it comes to verifying compliance with the new rules under FSMA, once those rules are finalized. Doing so will allow FDA to confidently ensure that the leafy greens industry is in compliance with the federal rules, and, since the LGMA programs are industry-funded, this can be accomplished without any additional cost to taxpayers or to the agency.

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