Lohr Urges Comments On FDA Regs

Proposed Rules Meant To Reduce Foodborne Illness

Posted: January 28, 2013

HARRISONBURG — Matt Lohr, commissioner of the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, is encouraging local farmers, food industry workers and the public to take advantage of a comment period for recently proposed food safety regulations.

“This is an opportunity for all of us in the food industry to work together to improve food safety in America,” Lohr, a Broadway resident and part-time farmer who represented Harrisonburg and Rockingham County for two terms in the House of Delegates, said in a recent statement.

The public comment period will end May 16.

In an effort to reduce preventable foodborne illness outbreaks, President Barack Obama signed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Food Safety Modernization Act, known as FSMA, two years ago.

Earlier this month, the federal agency released two of five rules that will be proposed under FSMA.

One of the rules will require makers of food sold in the U.S. to develop a plan to prevent foodborne illness. 

“In a nutshell …  they’re going to have to keep records of all these things …  and going to have to reassess all of this every three years,” said Ryan Davis, program manager for VDACS’ dairy and foods office. “It’s a lot more than what they’re having to do now, because some of them aren’t having to do anything.”

 The other proposed rule would cover about 90 percent of all raw agricultural commodities consumed in the nation, Davis said.

It would require most produce farmers to enforce safety standards, such as adhering to a schedule for using manure as fertilizer and training farm employees on sanitation issues. They would also have to make sure that equipment used to harvest is kept clean and that water used on the farm is sanitary, Davis explained.

The rules would not affect dairy, beef or poultry operations.

“[This is] sort of treading on waters that [the FDA hasn’t] treaded on before,” he said. “It’s been moving in this direction for some time …  but in my estimation, this is as far-reaching that [the FDA has] gone in respect to farms.”

Davis noted that it’s unclear how the rules would be enforced, but he estimates that the FDA would have to reach out to state agencies for help.

“I don’t think that the FDA is going to have the resources to actually visit and monitor …  every single farm,” he said.

However, state agencies might not have the authority to enforce the rules.

Local farmer and Broadway Farmers Market manager Kent Armentrout said he hadn’t read the entirety of both documents, as most people likely haven’t yet — they total 1,300 pages combined — but he already has some concerns.

“If they implement this down to the level of every farm …  there’s going to be a hiring spree in this country just in inspectors alone,” he said.

He questioned whether the oversight is necessary on smaller operations.

“I don’t remember the last time that they did research back up and found out that somebody in a farmers market in some town in some little area had vegetables one day …  and died from it,” he said, adding that market vendors have to face their customers everyday, giving them more of a direct, vested interest than most large company workers. 

Eric Bendfeldt, local extension specialist, noted some broad concerns with the rules.

 “I think generally people are just concerned about over-regulation and … realizing that regulations [don’t] guarantee food safety,” he said.

According to the FDA, one in six Americans suffers from foodborne illness every year. Of those, about 130,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die.

For more information, visit www.fda.gov/fsma . To comment, click “Dockets Open for Comment” on the left.
Contact Candace Sipos at 574-6275 or csipos@dnronline.com

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