At the annual meeting of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA), state agricultural officials from around the country reaffirmed their support of the goals of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). They voted unanimously, however, to encourage Congress and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to take their time and to ensure all the concerned players have a voice in the process and in the outcome, which is new regulations to govern food safety in the U.S.
Matt Lohr, Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) and a member of NASDA, was a participant in those discussions. “We are talking about the safety of our food supply,” Lohr said, “and we need to make sure we take our time and implement policies and procedures that will be both workable to producers and beneficial to consumers.”
NASDA supports the implementation of a food safety program but believes Congress should allow FDA to postpone finalization of this set of rules until a second draft of proposed rules can be published for public input. While recognizing the need to act swiftly to implement the law, members strongly believe that the current timeline may not allow FDA enough time to craft a sound and operable food safety program due to the complexity of the proposed rules. The rules will govern five areas: Produce Safety, Preventive Controls, Animal Feed, Import and Third-Party Verification.
Oregon Director of Agriculture Katy Coba, Chair of NASDA’s Food Regulation and Nutrition Committee, said, “Since FDA’s release of the rules earlier this year, NASDA members have been working diligently to review this necessary overhaul of America’s food safety regulatory system, but it is imperative we get this right. These rules must be workable for agriculture and reflect the realities of food production”
“I am learning from conversations with my fellow NASDA members that they, too, are concerned about the ability to enforce rules that are unclear,” said Coba. “Growers in my state are concerned about the complexity of following multiple rules and feel some alternatives might be a better way to proactively regulate certain commodities. We want to work with FDA and other stakeholders to get the rules right.”
Lohr echoes Coba’s sentiments and says he has heard similar comments from Virginia growers.
One of the many reasons FSMA was passed was to level the field between domestic and foreign producers. NASDA members expressed concern from producers regarding their fears that enforcement of domestic growers will be greater than imported food producers, putting American growers at an unfair advantage.
"We have got to use a common-sense approach to food safety,” continued Lohr. “It is important that we continue these conversations so the FDA can hear concerns from farmers across the country. Postponing implementation of these rules will allow needed time for FDA and the states to make progress on a state-federal partnership on food safety, but the partnership must be in place before implementation begins. We have to get this right; it’s too important to our farmers, our processors and our consumers. I look forward to working with NASDA and our other partners and consumer groups to engage Congress and FDA in developing a food safety program that works and is understandable for everyone it regulates.”