WASHINGTON, Jan. 4, 2013 – The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finally released today two new food safety rules the agency says will help prevent foodborne illnesses. The rules – one dealing primarily with produce, the other affecting most food handlers – are the result of a two year review process mandated by the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

These rules represent “significant advances to better protect the public health,” said Margaret Hamburg, commissioner of the FDA. She stressed the rules’ focus on preventative measures: “While FDA responds quickly and effectively to outbreaks,” Hamberg said, “we really need to do more than react after the fact.”

The first rule, which will primarily affect farmers, proposes a number of safety standards for the production of fruits and vegetables.

The second rule will require food producers to “develop a formal plan for preventing their food products from causing foodborne illnesses,” according to an FDA press release. Producers will also have to create contingency plans for correcting any problems that arise during the manufacturing process.

Both rules are open for comment for the next 120 days.

FDA officials emphasize the flexibility of the proposed rules, which the agency says are a result of collaborations between state and federal administrators, scientists, farmers and manufacturers. Among the number of accommodating provisions include exceptions for small farmers and producers. These businesses will be allowed a longer timetable to implement the new rules, and will be given extensive implementation assistance – a “focal point” of the new guidelines, according to Hamberg.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, which focuses on the interests of smaller producers, is especially pleased with the “rejection (of) a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to food safety regulations,” said Assistant Policy Director Ariane Lotti. That approach “would put small and mid-sized farm operations out of business, consolidate agricultural markets, and eliminate opportunities for food and farm entrepreneurs in emerging sectors of agriculture – including organic and local and regional food systems,” she continued.

Center for Science the Public Interest Food Safety Director Caroline Smith DeWaal called the rules an “important step toward (the) goal…(of) transforming the FDA from an agency that tracks down outbreaks after the fact, to an agency focused on preventing food contamination in the first place.”

However, DeWaal called on the agency to turn its focus to foreign food producers, “America’s increasingly global food supply demands a robust system that ensures that importers are living up to the same high standards we require of domestic producers,” she said in a statement.

It’s a demand that FDA says it has already begun to respond to. “Regulations are coming for how we will verify if (these rules) are being met, especially if the food coming in from elsewhere,” Michael Taylor, the agency’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, said today. “Importers will have to verify if food is being produced under same (safety) system” as the one in the U.S., he said.



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