Among nearly 20,000 written comments to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on draft rules regarding produce and preventive controls are letters from lawmakers on Capitol Hill. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), which is trying to nudge FDA into doing a second draft of the rules, made sure the media would notice several of the recently filed letters with return postmarks from the Hill. A House-Senate bipartisan letter signed by U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, and Roy Blunt, R-MO, and U.S. Reps. Joe Courtney, D-CT, and Chris Gibson, R-NY, calls on FDA to draft and release a second set of rules for another round of public comments before any regulations become final. The produce and preventive controls rules were written to help FDA implement the landmark Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) of 2010. About 75 lawmakers from both parties and both chambers signed the Nov. 22 letter calling for a “do-over” by FDA. They say to do otherwise would lead to “unintended consequences” that would be “severely detrimental” to American agriculture at the national, regional and local levels. Also making a bipartisan pitch to FDA is a Nov. 22 letter from the House Organic Caucus, signed by U.S. Reps. Peter DeFazio, D-OR, Sam Farr, D-CA, Richard Hanna, R-NY, Ron Kind, D-WI, and 19 of their colleagues. Their letter addresses concerns that organic produce growers have about conflicts between their long-standing practices and regulations drafted for manure and compost. The lawmakers want the regulations brought into line with those of the National Organic Program. Also getting some notice is a Nov. 13 letter from U.S. Sens. Jon Tester, D-MT, and Kay Hagan, D-NC, which raises similar concerns from the perspective of those operating small farms and facilities “with short supply chains.” The campaign to persuade FDA into doing a second draft of the rules was launched in September by the influential National Association of State Departments of Agriculture and quickly embraced by the well-funded United Fresh Produce Association, along with small and organic producers like those represented by NSAC. State agriculture directors are also weighing in with their concerns. For example, Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Agriculture, George Greig, said the FDA regulations as currently drafted will have a negative impact on his state’s produce and food processing industries. “The Food Safety Modernization Act is the most sweeping food policy reform in 70 years, and we need to get it right,” Greig said. “While we need reforms to keep consumers safe, parts of these proposed rules don’t make sense for agriculture. They don’t reflect the realities of food production and could force small growers out of business.” Greig submitted comments, developed with the state’s agriculture industry, to FDA in two documents covering the act’s proposed produce and preventative control rules and calling for:
- Training and education to effectively implement the final rules;
- Standards that do not put domestic producers and processors at a competitive disadvantage with imported food and produce;
- Clarification for water quality standards for agricultural use; and
- Recognition of the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance, which establishes a set of scientific standards for the high quality and safe production of milk for pasteurization in all 50 states, as meeting preventive control requirements without adding an additional set of regulations.