FDA proposes changes to ag water requirements in Produce Safety Rule

The Food and Drug Administration on Dec. 3 announced a proposed rule that would revise subpart E of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act Produce Safety Rule to change certain pre-harvest agricultural water requirements for covered produce other than sprouts.

The rule was scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Dec. 6 and will be open to comment for 120 days after that.

In a news release, FDA said, “Under this proposal, farms would be required to conduct annual systems-based agricultural water assessments to determine and guide appropriate measures to minimize potential risks associated with pre-harvest agricultural water.”

“The assessment would include an evaluation of the water system, agricultural water use practices, crop characteristics, environmental conditions, potential impacts on source water by activities conducted on adjacent and nearby land, and other relevant factors, such as the results of optional testing,” FDA said.

The proposal announced on Dec. 2 would replace the pre-harvest microbial water quality criteria and testing requirements with requirements for a systems-based pre-harvest agricultural water assessment for covered produce other than sprouts.

The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture praised the FDA’s commitment to science-based regulations.

“NASDA members have an essential role in implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act Produce Safety Rule,” NASDA CEO Ted McKinney said.

“For years, NASDA has worked with the nation’s state produce safety programs to build uniform and consistent regulatory programs from the ground up, as we know the safety of our food and water is vital to everyone,” McKinney said.

“NASDA looks forward to sustaining its work with FDA to develop educational tools to assist farmers in complying with the rule once it is finalized and we’ve reviewed all the details.”

Eric Deeble, policy director of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, said, “It is our hope that the proposed agricultural water assessment approach will allow farms to individually assess their risks and tailor mitigation methods to each farm.”

“Upon initial review, we appreciate the agency’s move away from the previous rule, which was too focused on a set number of tests and a testing regimen that would have resulted in significant and disproportionate costs to small, diversified farm operations.

“At its core, this rule continues to place the burden of assessment and mitigation of hazards solely on fruit and vegetable farmers. Problems with agricultural water quality need to be addressed at a societal and systemic level, instead of expecting farm by farm enforcement to correct a problem that originates upstream.

“The coalition also remains concerned about the rule’s encouragement of chemically treated water and the potential environmental impact of this element of the rule.”


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