For the first time in perhaps 75 years, sweeping changes to the nation's food safety laws are underway, generally shifting the focus away from reacting to food safety problems and towards preventing them. The first two proposed rules of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) are out for comment. As part of its outreach and education efforts, the Oregon Department of Agriculture urges farmers and processors to take a close look at the rules and provide feedback.
"Now is the time for farmers and processors to pay attention and provide comment on the draft rules the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed," says ODA Director Katy Coba. "FDA is trying to figure out how to make these rules workable at the time they are implemented. The proposed rules are extremely comprehensive and very complex. I think it's starting to hit our producers and processors just how big these proposed changes are."
"There is some consternation over the requirements related to water and irrigation," says Coba. "It's very complex. Oregon has diverse irrigation systems, we also have a lot of wildlife that could impact food safety in the field. We need to be sure that any adopted rules can prevent foodborne illness but not overreach."
ODA is coordinating outreach and education efforts related to FSMA by hosting a web page that contains information.
National agricultural groups are combing over the proposed rules and analyzing how they affect their membership directly. State organizations are urged to do the same and many of them have done so already. The rules may impact Oregon cherry growers, for instance, differently than cherry growers in Michigan.
"It's really important for commodity groups right now to pay close attention to the rules, think about how they would be impacted, and provide comments to either clarify or improve those rules," says Coba.
While the final form of these rules is yet to be known, one certainty is that FSMA will rely on partnerships to a much higher degree than ever before. Collaboration between FDA and state agencies with food safety programs will be vital to any success.
"ODA's Food Safety Program currently conducts inspections, we participate in food recall efforts, we even contract with FDA for additional inspection work," says Coba. "Nationally, NASDA is making sure the federal government doesn't lose track of the important role the states play in the implementation of FSMA."
Will state programs such as ODA's be doing the same kinds of inspections as before? Will they be doing more inspections? Will federal funding be adequate for FDA to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act? All those issues need to be played out, according to Coba. But it's not too early to ask those questions.
"We cannot lose sight of the fact that the United States has one of the safest food supplies in the world," says Coba. "That being said, we've had some terrible outbreaks of foodborne illness and there is definitely room for improvement. If we can all come together and apply some common sense to how to make these rules work, I believe we can move forward and will end up having a better system to protect against foodborne illnesses."
For more information, contact Katie Pearmine at (503) 872-6606 or go to the FSMA web page.
Western Farmer-Stockman thanks ODA Communications Director Bruce Pokarney for this article. For more on this subject, see the May issue of Western Farmer-Stockman.