The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Monday stepped up its outreach to small- and medium-sized growers by launching more resources to help explain the sweeping new food safety rules. The move comes after several news outlets ran stories highlighting farmers’ concerns about the costs of the regulations, which were mandated by Congress in the Food Safety Modernization Act enacted in early 2011.

After being extended, the comment period for two major proposed rules — one that would require preventive controls for food manufacturers and one that would mandate safety standards for fresh produce — is open until Sept. 16, but it seems the agency is taking a proactive approach to address some of the issues that are sure to be raised by stakeholders.
The FDA on Monday issued a handful of documents under a new “Resources for Farmers” section on its FSMA produce safety rule page and posted an interview with Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine, Michael Taylor, complete with a photo of him on a farm.

“We want [farmers] to know that we are committed to developing, with their input, a final rule that prevents illnesses but that also is practical and adaptable to a wide diversity of growing conditions and practices,” said Taylor, in the interview.

Sustainable agriculture leaders met in Washington, DC on Monday and Tuesday for a series of meetings focused on FSMA and its implications for small- and medium-sized farmers. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition participated in meetings with FDA and USDA, as well as consumer and produce industry stakeholders, to discuss their concerns about the rules.

While big produce interests vigorously lobbied against the Tester-Hagan amendment, which NSAC supported, to exempt certain farms from the bulk of FSMA when the legislation was being debated in Congress, the two groups are finding that some of their members have overlapping concerns about the details of the produce safety rule. For example, there has been considerable press coverage of farmers’ concerns, especially coming from tree fruit growers who take particular issue with the proposed water testing provision. Sustainable and conventional agriculture groups share many of the same concerns about the proposed requirements for water.

“We are glad that FDA is doing outreach to farmers about the proposed rules, but we continue to have a number of concerns with the proposed rules that need to be addressed for these rules to work for diversified sustainable and organic farmers,” said Ariane Lotti, assistant policy director at NSAC.

“We really want to make sure these rules work for all types of supply chains,” added Lotti. “We want to make sure no one is going out of business.”
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