By Abbey Willard, Local Foods Administrator, Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets
On April 23 & 24, I, along with Vermont Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross, was able to join in a public meeting held by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), Food Safety Modernization Act: Focus on Implementation Strategy for Prevention–Oriented Food Safety Standards, in Washington, D.C.
This meeting was billed as a chance to receive information about FDA’s operational strategy for the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) implementation and offered participants the opportunity to advise FDA on their strategy. FSMA will set new food safety standards that will affect farmers, processors, distributors, and importers across the global food system.
Attendees anxious to learn more about FDA’s plans, however, were somewhat disappointed. Instead of providing detailed information about the future of FSMA implementation, FDA opened much of the meeting up to feedback from stakeholders, including representatives from industry, nonprofits, academia, and government. While many stakeholders were not fully prepared to offer feedback, we also appreciated the opportunity to shape FDA’s current thinking about FSMA implementation. One recurring theme that emerged during the discussion was the importance of conducting voluntary on-farm assessments prior to expected compliance. These on-farm assessments are designed to promote compliance with FSMA’s Produce Safety Rule while also creating opportunities for FDA and state regulators to learn common operating practices from the industry. FDA representatives seemed encouraged by the strong support for these educational assessments voiced during the meeting.
One important announcement FDA did make during this meeting, however, was final rule compliance dates. These dates are outlined at Food Safety News [http://bit.ly/1Let6SF]. The earliest compliance dates for those subject to the full requirements of the Produce Safety Rule will be in October 2017.
To learn more about whether your farm or food operation is subject to the Produce Safety Rule, take the Agency of Agriculture’s Vermont Produce Safety Survey at www.surveymonkey.com/s/vtproduce.
In his remarks during the public meeting, Secretary Ross emphasized that we still don’t know enough about the relationship, roles and responsibilities between states and FDA when it comes to implementing FSMA. In addition, our somewhat “myopic” focus on the produce rule, while important for the majority of states that have not previously regulated produce, means that we have not paid enough attention to the remaining 6 FSMA rules, all of which will be finalized within the next year.
The full meeting agenda, presentations, and video are available at http://1.usa.gov/1OhTnVf. Questions and comments about FSMA implementation strategies may be submitted to FDA through May 26, 2015 at http://1.usa.gov/1HxP6rD.