FDA Discusses New Food Safety Modernization Act with Producers

The US Food & Drug Administration has been saying for two years that new food safety rules would be issued soon, and soon finally came last month. While the new proposed rules are still in the comment period, North Carolina Department of Agriculture hosted a listening session on Wednesday, which was simulcast for South Carolina producers as well. Dan Ragan, head of NCDA’s Food Safety division:

“We were pleased. We were hoping for 125 people and we had 180 registered.”

Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine Michael Taylor spoke to the group about the proposed rules:

“This is a very important part of our process. We have to learn from people who are on the ground producing product and want to work with us to make it safe. It’s a great learning opportunity for us and we are glad to be in NC to have this experience.”

Kimber & Company consultant Nathan Holleman expanded on what the proposed new rules will mean to some of the organizations he works with:

“I think they have been getting prepared for a while in terms of traceability and being able to trace where the product comes from. Food safety will be very important. GAP certification is also important with a number of retailers already requiring it. We can see that going more industry wide. It will be tougher on the smaller farmers because of the cost of getting certified. The state does have some cost share programs for that. There is going to be an educational component – our growers will need to get up to speed on what is required and we hope to assist them with that and help them learn what is necessary to stay in accordance with the new regulations.”

The local food movement is still in full swing, with new farmers’ markets and roadside stands popping up every year. Holleman explains how he sees the new regulations affecting them:

“I understand that the farmers markets have an exception to the food safety rules, depending on the size. I think most of the farmers market business is driven by quality and freshness. Because of the exception and because a lot of repeat customers know their farmer, I don’t think there will be any major impact there. In fact it may drive more customers there.”

Speaking of farmers’ markets, one of the largest is the State Farmers’ Market in Raleigh. Manager Ronnie Best says he expects changes at the market:

“I think slowly you will because people will require it. Whether its large buyers or wholesale dealers buying from farmers, they will require it. You will see some of it.”

FDA’s Mike Taylor explains that the listening sessions are a learning environment for the authors of the rules:

“There is a lot of interest all around the country in these rules. We are going to engage the community in a very active way to learn and be sure we get it right at the end of the day when we issue regulations next year.”

And 2014 is when FDA expects to issue final rules of the first phase of the Food Safety Modernization Act according to Taylor:

“We will allow ample time for people to comment and we will take time to analyze those and incorporate them into the final rules so it will be well into next year.”

NCDA’s Dan Ragan says the more clarification the better for all:

“Everyone is struggling with this, we are all trying to figure out what the rules and regulations will be.”

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