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Food safety act under review, farmers concerned

Agriculture — FSMA intends to prevent food outbreaks, but policy may have negative impact on growers


The Food Safety Modernization Act was passed in 2011, but with final revisions due in 2015, the Oregon Department of Agriculture is still processing feedback from farmers and deciding on the best policies.

“One really important thing for people to know now is the (Food and Drug Administration) decided to review the portion farmers were really worried about,” said Stephanie Page, ODA research analyst. “The FDA announced in December that they heard a lot of concern with parts of rules, and wanted to hear folks’ concerns and give people another opportunity to look at them.”

The act is essentially looking to put a focus on preventing food outbreaks in addition to improving responses to them. To do this means enforcing more regulations for inspections and increased safety standards for food producers. by: GARY ALLEN - Future in question - Sorters for Willamette Hazelnut Growers inspect filberts before they are packaged and shipped out. With the proposed Food Safety Modernization Act, hazelnut farmers could see increased quality standards.

“Everyone shares the goal of ensuring produce safety, but as we said at the beginning of the process, the new safety standards must be flexible enough to accommodate reasonably the great diversity of the produce sector, and they must be practical to implement,” according to a December FDA statement. “To achieve this goal, we believe that significant changes will be needed in key provisions of the two proposed rules affecting small and large farmers. These provisions include water quality standards and testing, standards for using raw manure and compost, certain provisions affecting mixed-use facilities, and procedures for withdrawing the qualified exemption for certain farms. We have heard the concern that these provisions, as proposed, would not fully achieve our goal of implementing the law in a way that improves public health protections while minimizing undue burden on farmers and other food producers.”

Locally, hazelnut farmers have expressed concerns with sections of the FSMA, specifically quality standards.

“We’re encouraged that they are going to review all the proposals made so far and resubmit it again for review,” said Tim Newkirk, Willamette Hazelnut Growers general manager. “We really want to know about harvesting device processing and what they require. We’re not a piece of spinach or leafy lettuce and they realize that, but they’re trying to write a rule to cover all those at the same time to put us in the same quality standards as ready-to-eat. It’s hard to do and harder to comply with in our world, but at end of the day we’ll do what we have to do.”

Newkirk said the changes in the proposal are obtainable for growers, but they look forward to seeing what revisions are suggested after reviewing the comments submitted by WHG and other agricultural organizations.

While wineries are exempt from the rules — as their grapes are transformed into alcohol — berry farmers will also be affected by several provisions.

“It depends on individual practices and types of irrigation, if they chlorinate water or not. For food safety purposes the farm will need to look at the rules and see if they apply to their situation,” Page said. “Prior rules said anyone irrigating with surface water needs to check weekly, but a lot of blueberry farms are using drip irrigation so it’s not in contact with the crop and they are already chlorinating.”

But for those using sprinklers, under the proposal they would need to test the surface water weekly.

“But again, we don’t know yet,” she said. “It’s been a big learning curve for us, so I can’t imagine what it’s like for the average farmer out there.”

She said the FDA is currently reviewing the feedback they received and should produce a revised rule in June.

For more information about the FSMA, visit http://1.usa.gov/1ius4Xe.



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