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FDA Wants Food Safety Standards to be “Risk-based and Scale-appropriate”

Michael Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for food, spoke for half an hour at this morning’s opening general session. And he said something that might help ease the minds of some independent farmers and small growers, who are concerned that the Food Safety Modernization Act will regulate them out of business by forcing them to develop the same safety procedures as corporate packers and processors.

“We need to be risk-based, and we need to be scale-appropriate,” Taylor said. “We know what risk-based means … we have to target the significant hazards. We have to target those hazards, but also the measures that can really make a difference with food safety. We can’t just go and set standards that we don’t have a reasonable basis to believe are addressing those significant hazards.

He continued: “Risk-based and scale-appropriate also recognizes that there is not a one-size-fits-all solution to food safety for produce. That’s easy to say, and it is common sense, but we have a lot of work to do to figure out what scale-appropriate means—how we translate that broad idea into a set of rules that can really work across the whole scope and diversity of the produce sector.”

A speech is a speech and a law is a law. And there's a big difference between the two. But, during the past year, almost everyone I have spoken with regarding food safety legislation has noted how open-minded the FDA and USDA have been under the Obama Administration—seeking extensive input from people who will be affected by any new laws and regulations, and working with the industry to learn more about projects like the Produce Traceability Initiative.

Throughout his presentation, Taylor reiterated that the FDA understands how complex and diverse the U.S. produce industry is, and that the agency has actively sought input from all manner of growers, with officials touring farms, hosting town hall meetings in throughout the country, and encouraging interested parties to submit comments and suggestions.

It’s no secret that the FDA has suffered from serious funding shortfalls and a lack of authority when it really matters—the agency can’t even technically force a company to recall a contaminated product under current laws. Reform has to happen in order to ensure the safety of the food supply. And, in theory at least, the FDA seems to be making an effort to ensure that new food safety laws codify current best practices and help weed out bad actors, rather than place new regulatory burdens on farms that can’t handle them.

Check back later today for posts on New York City’s school salad bar program and news from the Reception Honoring Women in Produce.