WASHINGTON, Sept. 30, 2015 – United Fresh, a trade group that represents more than 1,200 produce growers, processors, shippers, retailers, and marketers, wrapped up its annual conference in Washington, Wednesday by taking their concerns to Capitol Hill.
Among the group’s biggest policy priorities were FDA rules to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act(FSMA). Following a breakfast-hour keynote address from Debbie Stabenow, the top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee and an ardent advocate for fruits and vegetables in school meals, a number of participants at the conference headed to the Capitol to give lawmakers their take on FDA’s proposed FSMA rules, some of which are now finalized.
Stabenow didn’t explicitly offer her support for FSMA or the proposed rules in her speech, even though one FSMA rule in particular has been a talking point for United Fresh members for some time.
The proposed produce rule would institute purity standards and microbial testing requirements on water used for irrigation and washing plants. Some farmers say those requirements are unnecessary and costly. Organic farmers have also disapproved of the rule’s restrictions on the use of manure as a fertilizer.
To calm the fears of those producers, the FDA removed the rule’s proposed nine-month, minimum time interval between the application of raw manure and crop harvesting, and is proposing to eliminate the 45-day minimum application interval for compost and composted manures.
United Fresh officially “commends” the FDA on making revisions to the water quality and water testing requirements in the rule, but still contends the regulation remains “confusing,” the prescribed “testing frequencies still put operations that use surface water at an unfair disadvantage, and codifying agricultural water quality standards based on generic E. coli levels is still arbitrary and not food-safety based.”
Two other FSMA rules – supplemental preventative safety controls for both human and animal feed – were recentlyfinalized and have received broad industry support. And a fourth proposed rule regarding a new protocol forverifying foreign suppliers that export food to the U.S. is due out in October, along with the pending produce rule.
Stabenow, Michigan’s senior senator, didn’t say much on the status of a child nutrition reauthorization bill in the Senate. But told reporters that the Agriculture Committee “got back some positive scores” from the Congressional Budget Office on provisions of the legislation the panel is working to finalize.
Stabenow said she wouldn’t go into particulars about the negotiations surrounding the reauthorization or the CBO scores, because she learned with the 2014 farm bill, “it doesn’t help to negotiate publically.”
“We haven’t stopped talking,” she said. “I don’t know if we can get an agreement, but it’s still possible… and “hopefully” the bill would be introduced “by the end of the year.”
“I would like very much to have it done, if it’s done the right way,” she said. She also repeated her desire to see summer feeding programs and farm-to-school initiatives expanded in the reauthorization.