● The May 16 deadline looms for public comments on two of the proposed rules implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act. Given the complexity of these proposals, and the fact that not all the contemplated FSMA rules have yet been published, a good number of trade associations representing the nation’s produce industry this week co-signed a letter to the Food and Drug Administration asking for a significant extension of time for public comment. The United Fresh Produce Association took the lead in making this request, which the Northwest Horticultural Council supported. Although it is not a certainty, odds are in favor of FDA granting some additional time.
● Another point concerning the need for additional time to comment to FDA is the fact that many produce industry associations now have their top policy people directly involved in the white heat of the immigration reform battle on Capitol Hill. I know this is the case at national groups such as United Fresh and USApple and for certain regional groups, such as Western Growers and the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association. Agricultural labor is the number one priority for most in the nation’s produce industry and the ability to fight simultaneously on two major policy fronts is tough.
● Also this week, Phil Korson of the Cherry Marketing Institute (Lansing, Michigan) and I submitted a FSMA comment to FDA requesting that tart cherries be added to its proposed list of exempt produce items, since they are grown as a processor fruit and are never eaten raw, out-of-hand.
● Yesterday the Pacific Northwest Food Safety Committee met in Yakima. Among the speakers was Dr. Bob Whitaker, who leads science policy efforts at the Produce Marketing Association. Now working out of California, it appears he may move back to the mother ship in Newark, Delaware, in the not too distant future.
● The more I think about FSMA and FDA’s plan of implementation, the more convinced I am that this is a simple collision of two incompatible ways of thinking: legal and HACCP. Legal thinking strives for clear and constant bright lines of right and wrong. Laws have general applicability. If the traffic speed limit is 60 and you, or anyone else, drive 61 a ticket may be issued. In contrast, Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points is a site specific approach to food safety requiring constant evaluation and modifications based on evolving science and an ever-better understanding of factual circumstances and risks. Congress and FDA are trying to jam a flexible food safety process into the straightjacket of federal law.
● A few weeks ago I was interviewed on FSMA by a Washington Post reporter by the name of Brady Dennis. His article on how the nation’s tree fruit growers are having problems with FSMA appeared on April 8.
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