On Jan. 19, 2016, the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) published a new proposed rule in the Federal Register to revise the minimum quality and handling standards for domestic and imported peanuts marketed in the U.S. The proposed rule would:
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- eliminate the maximum amount of foreign material incoming peanuts may contain;
- relax the amount of damage allowed under outgoing quality requirements;
- modify positive lot identification requirements, record-keeping procedures, and reporting requirements; and
- update language throughout the standards to reflect current industry practices.
In other words, says Evans Plowden, general counsel for the American Peanut Shellers Association, these proposed rules don’t have anything to do with food safety. They simply raise the maximum cosmetic damages allowed, and bring the rules in line with 21st century technologies and management protocols.
Plowden explains that the rules were put into place some 50 years ago to assist in indemnification of peanut growers who had unknowingly shipped peanuts with aflatoxin. Today, however, peanut shelling is now packed with superior machinery, better management oversight, and electronic eyes that remove any damaged kernels.
“Today, the supply chain has completely eliminated aflatoxin in edible chain of peanuts,” Plowden says. “Through risk management and technology, the industry has removed all risk from the food supply chain.”
There are other measures in place, says Plowden, to control disease. For example, growers keep meticulous records and when peanuts are delivered for shelling, they are separated by risk. And no peanuts are shipped that exceed 15 parts per billion of aflatoxin.
At the time the proposed rules were published, they were done so with approval from the USDA Peanut Standards Board. “On behalf of the industry, I’m confident I can say that we think the proposed rule should be put through and become final,” comments Plowden.
Don Koehler, executive director of the Georgia Peanut Commission says they too support the proposed rule but would like to see symmetry in the rules between USDA divisions.
“We support the change but unfortunately it didn’t go far enough and make a change likewise in the regulations on farmers. The industry has far more technology now to deal with damage on peanuts, which is sometimes cosmetic. This should have no impact beyond the peanut processors.”
In essence, Koehler is asking for the Farm Service Agency that houses a peanut program for farmers most recently modified in the 2002 Farm Bill, to update its regulations to be perfectly in line with the new proposed rules from AMS.
Plowden says his organization agrees with Koehler. But at the end of the day, he stresses that these rules do not, and will not affect food safety, they simply modernize the rule.
Comments regarding the proposed rules can be submitted until March 21, 2016 at www.regulations.gov.