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Farmers urged to comment on proposed food safety rules

News Release Distributed 11/21/14

WINNSBORO, La. – The U.S. Food Safety Modernization Act will make sweeping changes to the way food safety is handled in the United States. Congress passed the law in 2010, but the Food and Drug Administration is still writing the rules that will enforce it.

LSU AgCenter experts say that could be good news for farmers because it gives them time to comment on proposed rules and to get their operations up to FSMA standards. The AgCenter hosted four educational meetings around Louisiana this week and will hold one more on Dec. 1 at the Rice Research Station in Crowley.

Farmers will be subject to FSMA, which seeks to prevent foodborne illness instead of responding after the fact, only if they grow crops usually consumed raw and sell more than $25,000 of produce annually, said AgCenter food safety specialist Achyut Adhikari.

Writing the rules, which deal with topics such as produce safety, animal food safety and regulation of imported foods, has been a slow process partially because the FDA has been tweaking them based on public comments.

The FDA is accepting comments on the revised produce safety rule, which is one of the widest-reaching of the rules, until Dec. 15. The rule requires growers to take steps to minimize contamination that can come from water, soil amendments, workers, equipment and animals. Fortunately, the revised version has less stringent requirements than the original, Adhikari said.

Keeping agricultural water clean is one of the biggest concerns in Louisiana, Adhikari said, where warm temperatures encourage pathogen growth. FSMA requires farmers to regularly test water that comes in contact with produce for generic E. coli, which can indicate the presence of pathogens like salmonella or listeria.

Those pathogens come from fecal matter, so FSMA limits the contact allowed between produce and livestock or wild animals. Adhikari said growers should keep produce and animals separate and make frequent assessments of their farm to ensure animals haven’t intruded. Otherwise, the produce cannot legally be harvested and sold.

Fecal matter is also an issue when manure is used as a soil amendment. Adhikari said FSMA proposes two composting processes that reduce pathogens in manure by requiring compost piles to sit for a period of time and reach a certain temperature before being turned or aerated.

While all of these regulations may cause concern for growers, Adhikari pointed out that the FDA will not be able to shut down a farm that violates a rule without first allowing a chance for corrective action. The Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, which will be responsible for regular on-farm FSMA inspections, will give those growers time to bring their farm up to FSMA standards.

Farm workers must be trained in hygiene and basic food safety, and one person on the farm — usually the owner or supervisor — must be trained and certified in health, hygiene and sanitation. Adhikari said the AgCenter will eventually conduct trainings in collaboration with the Produce Safety Alliance, and the Association of Food and Drug Officials will manage certification.

FSMA also stresses good recordkeeping, which Adhikari said is the best way for growers to start preparing for compliance. A key goal of the law is to be able to trace food to its source if there is a problem. Accurate, detailed records that show a farmer has proactively tried to minimize food safety risks can prevent harsher penalties, he said.

FSMA rules are relatively flexible and will allow growers to use alternative practices if they provide the same level of protection and are backed by scientific data, Adhikari said. An AgCenter task force is researching alternatives that will work better in Louisiana conditions.

Because every state’s conditions are different, it is important for growers to submit comments telling the FDA if a rule will be feasible on their farm, said AgCenter pecan specialist Charlie Graham. Comments can be made by visiting, clicking on a rule listed under “implementation activity,” and then clicking “comment now.”

“Normally a law is passed, and we have to alter farming practices to comply with the new requirements,” Graham said. “With this one, we’ve been able to help write it all along the way to make sure it’s more grower-friendly.”

Graham expects FSMA rules to be finalized between August and October 2015. Small farms will have more time than larger farms to comply with the law. Depending on the size of the farm, it will take between two and six years to fully implement FSMA.

Olivia McClure

Last Updated: 11/21/2014 1:35:49 PM

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