The FDA is accepting comments until March 13, 2015, on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) released in January 2015, which examines the potential environmental effects of its proposed produce safety rule.
The draft EIS focuses on four key areas in the Standards for Growing, Harvesting, Packing, and Holding Produce for Human Consumption, or the so-called produce safety rule: definition of covered farms, water quality standards, biological soil amendments of animal origin (such as manure and compost), and actions taken with respect to domesticated and wild animals on farm lands. Only the water quality standards have been identified as potentially having a significant adverse environmental impact.
Groundwater shortages are critical in some parts of the country, including states where much of the nation’s produce is grown. Standards for agricultural water quality in the produce safety rule could have a significant environmental effect if they caused farmers in areas with already compromised groundwater supplies to switch to groundwater rather than surface water, which can be more easily contaminated, says Annette McCarthy, PhD, in the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.
All of the microbial standards for agricultural water have the potential to increase the use of groundwater. The draft EIS, however, outlines supplemental changes to the original proposed rule, ones that would allow time for potentially dangerous microbes in agricultural water to die off. Because of this flexibility, most covered farms would not need to change their water source or to treat their water with chemicals. The document speculates that a farmer will likely “add a post-harvest mechanism to allow for added microbial die-off and/or removal.”
The produce safety rule is one of the seven rules proposed for implementation of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act. It establishes requirements for the growing, harvesting, packing, and holding of produce, an effort to decrease the number of foodborne diseases. According to the report, each year in the U.S. foodborne diseases affect 48 million people, causing 180,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. The FDA considers this a “significant burden to public health that is largely preventable.”
A public meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2015, in College Park, Md. Comments on the draft EIS can be sent to the FDA’s Division of Dockets management.
Holliman is a veteran journalist with extensive experience covering a variety of industries. Reach her at [email protected].