Header graphic for print

Food Safety News

Breaking news for everyone's consumption

FSMA Rule Revisions a ‘Huge Win’ for the Organic Sector

Organic food producers are very pleased with the Food and Drug Administration’s revised provisions for the produce safety rule of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

“It’s a huge win,” says Gwendolyn Wyard, regulatory director of Organic Standards and Food Safety with the Organic Trade Association (OTA).

These changes are about making sure the rules don’t conflict or duplicate organic regulations, not creating an exception from requirements, she adds.

One of the most important changes for organic food in the supplemental proposals was FDA’s deference on a decision about the application interval — a means to reduce pathogen contamination — for raw manure.

The originally proposed nine-month minimum between when “untreated biological soil amendments of animal origin” are applied and crops are harvested would interrupt organic farmers’ ability to rotate crops — something important to the diversified crop nature of these farms. In organic regulations, the interval is 120 days before being directly applied to produce and 90 days if applied indirectly (think apple trees).

OTA conducted a survey of organic producers across the country and found that 95 percent of the responses indicated that a nine-month wait period would prevent or restrict operations.

In its revisions, FDA has removed the interval requirement and will conduct more research over the next five years to figure out what is the best science-based application interval.

Organic farmers will still be held to the 120- and 90-day requirements set by USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP), but conventional growers will continue without wait requirements.

Wyard says that another positive outcome for organic operations is the removal of the 45-day minimum application interval for compost that has been properly treated.

The organic regulations don’t have an application interval for compost, and OTA has argued that setting a minimum conflicts with the ability to improve soil biodiversity and rotate crops.

Wyard says the industry appreciates FDA’s desire to promote compost over raw manure because it is preferable both for safety and sustainability.

Issues OTA raised about water testing requirements in the original rule were not about organic production specifically, but about farmers “across the board,” Wyard said. “We just recognized that [those were] going to put a tremendous burden on producers across the U.S.”

OTA did point out that if farmers have to treat water in order to bring it into compliance, there are a limited number of options for organic operations.

“A lot of times when rulemaking is happening, if it’s outside of the organic regulations, we’re still at the point where we can be forgotten,” Wyard says. “They’ll be thinking in terms of conventional systems and come up with a rule and we’ll have to say, ‘No, actually that’s going to put a lot of people out of the organic business.'”

But the process for developing the rules has been “outstanding,” she says. “FDA has done an absolutely excellent job at reaching out to stakeholders and getting around throughout the U.S.”

The rule revisions are less than a week old, and OTA will convene its Food Safety Taskforce to analyze the changes and help shape the association’s comments, but, “At this point, we are quite happy with what we’re seeing,” Wyard says.

The revised rules were released on Sept. 19 and will be officially published in the Federal Register on Sept. 29. Following that will be a 75-day comment period and FDA will hold a public meeting on the revised proposals on Thursday, Nov. 13, 2014, in College Park, MD.

© Food Safety News