FDA Releases New Rules For Food Safety Modernization Act

The FDA has finalized the three new major rules for the Food Safety Modernization Act, according to a report from NPR. The new act was promised five years ago by Congress and intended to overhaul America’s food safety system. It’s taken much longer than anticipated, due to its controversial nature, but the Food Safety Modernization Act is finally ready to release.

The new, controversial rules, which represent the core of the Act, cover both farmers who grow fresh produce and food importers. The rules are intended to prevent food-borne bacterial illness from vegetables that are often consumed raw; according to the CDC, approximately 1 in 6 Americans get sick from food-borne illness each year, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die. Those are fairly significant numbers. The new Act, meant to bring those numbers down, was met with significant protest from farmers — complaining that the new water-testing regulations were onerous and expensive — and from the organic foods lobby, which protested against restrictions on the use of manure as fertilizer. Manure is considered one of the primary vectors for spreading food-borne bacteria.

Michael Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, described the Act as “a giant step forward.” However, he stressed the importance of additional funding for the FDA to enforce the new regulations, something that Congress will need to approve. “It will not succeed without resources.”

“The recent multi-state outbreak of salmonella in imported cucumbers that has killed four Americans, hospitalized 157 and sickened hundreds more, is exactly the kind of outbreak these rules can help prevent. The rules will help better protect consumers from food-borne illness and strengthen their confidence that modern preventive practices are in place, no matter where in the world the food is produced.”

Food Safety News reports that the new Produce Safety Rule establishes science-based standards that are intended to be applicable to farms across the board. The new, incredibly far-reaching rule covers water quality, employee health and hygiene, biological fertilizer standards, equipment, tools, buildings, animals (both wild and domestic), and the growing, harvesting, packing and storage of produce; essentially, every last aspect of modern agriculture is addressed and standardized. As such, it is perhaps unsurprising that the FDA has faced considerable push-back throughout the process. An Environmental Impact Statement has also been released for the new Produce Safety Rule.

The second major rule of the Act is the Foreign Supplier Verification Programs Rule, which requires food importers to ensure foreign suppliers are providing produce that meets U.S. safety standards; approximately 52 percent of fresh fruits and 22 percent of fresh vegetables consumed in America are imported, and the laws simply haven’t kept up, having been written in a time when America produced almost all its own food. The Rule requires food importers to conduct regular safety audits at home and abroad, inspecting foreign facilities, testing imported produce regularly, and reviewing relevant safety records, to limit the risk factors of imported produce, such as the aforementioned salmonella outbreak.

The final new major rule is the Accredited Third-Party Certification Rule, which establishes and standardizes a program to accredit third-party auditors to ensure that foreign facilities and produce meet the FDA’s safety requirements. It also establishes that the FDA may require, in certain circumstances, that imported food be accompanied by a certification by an auditor accredited under the program.

As The Wall Street Journal notes, many critics of the FDA have accused the Administration of not taking action until after infection has already taken place; shutting the door behind infections, as it were.

While the new rules are extremely comprehensive, they were difficult to pass and will cost a considerable amount to enforce. They also give the FDA powers intended to allow them, for the first time, to prevent food-borne illness before it occurs.

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