A faulty web page is to blame for another extension of the comment period for new food safety regulations, the Food and Drug Administration said Friday.
The comment period for proposed rules on produce safety and preventive controls for human food, which has been twice extended, will now end Nov. 22. The rules were first announced in January, 2013.
The rules are part of the Food Safety Modernization act, which FDA says is the first major overhaul of food safety legislation in more than 70 years. As a whole, FSMA aims to move the food safety system from reaction to prevention.
The two rules involved in the extension have attracted attention from the ag industry, as they will govern standards for growing, harvesting, packing and holding produce on domestic and foreign farms and apply to many domestic and foreign firms that manufacture, process, pack or hold human food.
Despite the setbacks, more than 7,000 comments have been received on the produce safety rule, while more than 4,000 have been filed on the preventive controls for human food rule.
The National Farmers Union said Friday it has already submitted comments on both rules, raising questions about the definition of farms in the rule, as well as the basis for testing requirements and quality standards for agricultural water.
The comments also urge FDA to reduce the interval that prohibits the application of biological soil amendments before harvesting produce, NFU President Roger Johnson said, and asks for clarity in how alternative compliance proposals will be considered.
NFU also asked for a second comment period, which would allow growers to comment on revisions.
"Great care must be taken when finalizing regulations of this scale, and because of the importance of FSMA to the future of U.S. agriculture, a set of revised rules should be published and made available for comments from stakeholders," said Johnson.
"FSMA is a well-intentioned and important evolution of our food safety system, we ask that the aforementioned comments be considered before proceeding further in the rulemaking process, in the hopes that improvements to consumer confidence in the food supply not come at the expense of family farm agriculture."
The produce group United Fresh also submitted comments critical of the proposal, though it supports the rule's overarching goal.
"There is nothing more important than advancing food safety in fresh produce, and these proposed rules are an important milestone in that mission," said United Fresh President & CEO Tom Stenzel. "United Fresh continues to support the public health goals of the FSMA law and is committed to working closely with the FDA to ensure that the regulations can be implemented in the most practical and efficient way possible."
Click here for FDA information on the rule, and a link to comment.