FDA Delays Food Safety Regulations

By Meg Tirrel | December 20, 2013

Food safety rules the U.S. planned to implement this year are being delayed by months because the requirements were too complex for some farmers, regulators said.

Two core rules of the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011 that were proposed in January will be rewritten and resubmitted “by early summer,” the Food and Drug Administration said today in a blog post. Those rules targeted ways to prevent foodborne illness originating at manufacturing operations and reduce contamination risks at produce farms.

The 2011 law was supposed to usher in the biggest change to food industry oversight since 1938. It was prompted, in part, by recalls of tainted cookie dough, spinach, jalapenos and peanuts that killed at least nine people and sickened more than 700 in 2008 and 2009. The changes to the proposed rules will include sections about standards for water quality and use of raw manure and compost and provisions for mixed-use operations like farms with food-processing activities, the FDA said.

“Because of the input we received from farmers and the concerns they expressed about the impact of these rules on their lives and livelihood, we realized that significant changes must be made, while ensuring that the proposed rules remain consistent with our food safety goals,” Michael Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods at the FDA, said in the post.

The rules for produce farms would prevent 1.75 million foodborne illnesses at a cost of $460 million a year for domestic farms and $171 million for foreign growers, the FDA estimates.

Another Look

“The scope of what FDA is trying to do with this regulatory structure is so complicated we would greatly appreciate the chance to look at a second round of draft rules,” said Ray Gilmer, a spokesman for the United Fresh Produce Association, a Washington-based trade group.

The group is looking for clarity on issues such as the definitions of farms and mixed-use facilities and changes to water testing guidelines, Gilmer said. It also disagrees with an exemption included for small farms.

“We were in favor of the law and think this second draft of rules is a good thing,” he said. “There remains an exemption for small farms and we think that’s a bad idea. Bacteria don’t discriminate between large or small farms.”

The 2011 food safety law gave the FDA more power to police domestic and international producers, carry out inspections and force recalls of tainted products in an effort to steer government oversight toward preventing contamination rather than responding once problems occur.

–With assistance from Anna Edney in Washington. Editors: Andrew Pollack, Romaine Bostick

 

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