No FSMA rule has garnered as much discussion as the Produce Rule. There were so many facets to the rule when it was conceived, it’s no wonder there are concerns surrounding it at every turn.
On Nov. 27, the U.S. Government Accountability Office released a new report in response to its original report in 2016 on FDA’s use of an information clearinghouse to respond to industry concerns about these standards. The new GAO report found that since the issuance of its 2016 report, 2,665 more questions were submitted to FDA’s Technical Assistance Network. Most Produce Rule-related questions concerned agricultural water standards, such as methods for testing water. FDA has taken steps to evaluate and respond to business concerns, including funding training for industry and visiting farms. FDA is also reviewing the rule’s water standards and published a proposed rule in September 2017 to extend the compliance dates.
Not everyone is happy about a possible delay, however. The Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Center for Food Safety publicly disputed the Trump administration’s proposal to delay enforcement of the Produce Rule. These nonprofit food safety watchdog groups say that under the new proposed delay, growers would not have to test water for E. coli contamination until between 2022 and 2024 (11 to 13 years after FSMA’s passage), which would contribute to further illnesses and deaths from produce tainted by animal feces.
And then there are the skeptics to the rule’s overall impact on farmers and foodborne illnesses. “I would assess this [FSMA] more as a Band-Aid than a cure-all,” says John Bovay of the University of Connecticut, in a press release from the Agricultural & Applied Economics Association. Bovay is part of a team of researchers that looked at the impact of FSMA from several points of view in the paper “Economic Effects of the U.S. Food Safety Modernization Act,” which appears in the Oct. 26 issue of the journal Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy.
Bovay used the produce aspect of FSMA, specifically the fresh tomatoes industry, as a case study. The paper looks at the impact on farmers, both large and small, and why some benefit from FSMA more than others.
“FSMA will reduce the number of foodborne illness cases by some unknown amount,” says Bovay. “Even if FSMA is effective, because it is similar to many private and state rules and regulations already in place, I don’t have a lot of confidence that this is going to drastically diminish the number of illnesses.”
With so much uncertainty surrounding this one rule, many in the industry are indeed left wondering if it will have any influence in preventing the abundant amount of foodborne illnesses tied to fresh produce in its current state.
From The Editor