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Produce states get $30 million to help FDA enforce new rule

Forty-three states and territories are getting a total of $30.9 million from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to help the federal agency implement the Food Safety Modernization Act’s Produce Safety Rule.

“Congress envisioned the states and FDA working together as an integrated food safety system when it passed FSMA,” said Barbara P. Glenn, CEO of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) when she announced the funding on Wednesday.

She praised FDA for providing the additional money for the states.

“Safe food is a quintessential American value,” Glenn said in the announcement. “Congress’ commitment to fund FDA and FDA pointing the funds to the states is an important milestone. We appreciate the continued advancements on collaboration that these commitments afford.”

The FSMA’s Produce Safety Rule was adopted in November 2015. It establishes science-based minimum standards for the safe growing, harvesting, packing and holding of fresh fruits and vegetables grown for human consumption. The nation’s largest growers have to comply with certain aspects of the rule beginning in January 2018. Smaller producers get additional time to comply.

FDA awarded $21.8 million in 2016 to 42 states to help implement the produce rule.

The FSMA marks the first time Congress has extended FDA’s regulatory authority to certain farms. The funding has allowed FDA to work through state departments of agriculture in at least 39 states to implement the rule.

FDA and NASDA entered into a cooperative agreement in 2014 for a joint strategy on how to use implementation funds granted by Congress. As part of the agreement, NASDA developed the “Model Produce Safety Implementation Framework” and the “On the Farm Readiness Review Process” to help states prepare for enforcing compliance with the produce rule.

The nonpartisan NASDA represents both the elected state agricultural commissioners and appointed department directors, cabinet secretaries and other officials that head farm programs in all 50 states and four U.S. territories. It works to form partnerships and achieve consensus for on-farm policies between the states and the federal government.

While the smallest growers of fresh produce are exempt from the Food Safety Modernization Act, implementation remains problematic, especially provisions about agricultural water testing and standards.

FDA is looking at ways to simplify the microbial quality and testing requirements for agricultural water while still protecting public health. Agricultural water can be a major conduit of pathogens that can contaminate produce.

FSMA’s produce safety rule sets microbial quality standards for agricultural water, including irrigation water that comes into contact with produce. Growers say the water standards, which include numerical criteria for pre-harvest microbial water quality, are too complex to understand, translate and implement.

FDA is working to simplify the water standards in hopes of increasing compliance.

Produce growers also say FDA is taking too long to answer technical questions relating to implementation of the new rule.

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