FDA to make food safety rules more farmer-friendly

December 19, 2013

The Food and Drug Administration says it will revise sweeping food safety rules proposed earlier this year after farmers complained the rules could hurt business.

Michael Taylor, the FDA’s commissioner for foods, said the agency wants to make sure the rules are practical for farmers who have to abide by them. The rules proposed in January would require farmers to take new precautions against contamination, making sure workers’ hands are washed, irrigation water is clean, and that animals stay out of fields. Food manufacturers would have to submit food safety plans to the government to show they are keeping their operations clean. Those changes would in many cases require new equipment, paperwork and record keeping.

Taylor said the agency’s thinking has evolved after talking to farmers.

“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,” Taylor said in a blog post on the FDA Web site.

The rules would mark the first time the FDA would have real authority to regulate food on farms, and the FDA said when it proposed the rules that they could cost large farms $30,000 a year.

The food safety law was passed by Congress at the end of 2010, weeks before Republicans assumed control of the House. Since then, many GOP lawmakers have said the rules are too burdensome for farmers, and the House version of a five-year farm bill would delay some of the rules.

Supporters have said the new regulations are needed after several high-profile food-borne illness outbreaks, including in peanuts, spinach and eggs. Although many farmers and food manufacturers already follow good food safety practices, the law would aim to ensure that all do. There are an estimated 3,000 deaths a year from food-borne illness.

The rules are already somewhat tailored to make the changes easier on farmers. They would apply to only certain fruits and vegetables that pose the greatest risk, such as berries, melons, leafy greens and other foods that are usually eaten raw. A farm that produces green beans that will be canned and cooked, for example, would not be regulated.

In addition to regulating farms and food manufacturing facilities, the food safety law also authorized more inspections by the FDA and gave the agency additional powers to shut down food facilities. In addition, the law required stricter standards on imported foods. Taylor said the new proposed produce rules are expected by next summer.

— Associated Press

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