Food Safety Rules Proposed Today by FDA Show Promise for Organic Farmers

Maria Gaura's picture

Sept. 19, 2014 - Revised food safety rules proposed today by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) appear to hold some good news for organic growers and small farms, with significant alterations to earlier proposed rules of particular concern to organic farmers–including mandatory testing of irrigation water and the use of manure-based soil amendments.

The new rules implementing the federal Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), if implemented, would also fine-tune regulation of mixed-type facilities that grow, pack, and/or process on the farm, and would grant exemptions from some regulations to the smallest farms.

“We’re very pleased that the FDA has given such thoughtful consideration to the feedback of the farming community and is addressing the needs and concerns of organic producers,” said Brise Tencer, Executive Director of the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF). “The safety of our food is a top priority for farmers, processors, and consumers.”

Today’s announcement was a victory for the organic industry, which organized an overwhelming response to the first round of proposed FSMA regulations, some of which conflicted with National Organic Program (NOP) regulations, were incompatible with organic farming practices, or would have placed insurmountable regulatory burdens on many organic producers. Critics also questioned the scientific justification of some of the first-round rules.

 

“We have worked very hard to gather and respond to comments from farmers and other stakeholders regarding the major proposed FSMA regulations,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D. “The FDA believes these updated proposed rules will lead to a modern, science-based food safety system that will better protect American consumers from potentially hazardous food.”

The first round of proposed rules would have required a minimum 9-month interval between the field application of untreated manure and harvest, conflicting with NOP rules requiring a 90- to 120-day interval, (depending on the amount of crop contact with the soil). Composted manure would have been subject to a 45-day minimum pre-harvest application interval, while the NOP mandates no waiting time.

In today’s proposal, the FDA said it would postpone new restrictions on the use of raw manure, and allow organic farmers to comply with NOP standards until new research on the topic is completed–a process expected to take at least 5 years.

The new proposed rules on use of composted manure align with the NOP’s current standards.

Testing requirements on farm irrigation water, as often as every seven days under the earlier proposal, now reflect a more realistic risk-based approach, taking into consideration natural microbial die-off in the field and during storage, as well as commercial washing of produce. The new rules would apply a tiered approach to testing that takes into account the water source and the results of prior tests.

Farms that pack and hold produce grown at another location will no longer have to register as “food facilities” and meet additional regulations. Under the new proposed rules, this would be defined as “traditional farming activity.”

Very small farms, with average produce sales of $25,000 or less, would be exempt from FSMA’s produce safety rules. The previous rules would have applied to farms that earned $25,000 or less from all food sales.

And in a clarification, the FDA stated that nothing in the proposed FSMA rules would authorize or require farmers to harm threatened or endangered species.

Comments on the proposed rules are due within 75 days of official publication of the complete revised regulation, which is expected one week from today. No further public comment extensions will be provided by the FDA.

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