LAS VEGAS — In a statement that may help ease concerns among independent farmers and small domestic specialty crop producers, Michael Taylor, deputy commissioner for food at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, has said that the agency is working to develop “risk-based, scale-appropriate” regulations for growers and other food producers, pending the passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act (see the “Rebuilding Safety” feature).
“We need to be risk-based, and we need to be scale-appropriate,” Taylor said during his general session presentation here last week at the United Fresh Produce Association's annual trade show, adding that the significant hazards must be targeted, along with the measures that can really make a difference with food safety.
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. This is just one of the issues where we need input from this association and from colleagues throughout the produce industry.”
Taylor said that this philosophy reflects the agency's “current thinking at a high level,” and that much of the FDA's current approach has come from outreach and discussion with the grower and producer community.
“We need to reflect in our rules, as much as possible, the best practices that are going on within the industry,” he said. “It's a matter of us learning what's actually being done and what's working … We are typically not the creators of the standards of care, we are the codifiers.”
Taylor, who has a long history working with the FDA and U.S. Department of Agriculture on food safety issues, said that developing regulations for the produce industry has been “the hardest problem I have encountered during my work in government, because of the complexity and diversity of the [produce] sector … There's the incredibly large number of growers, packers and processors. There's the incredible diversity of crops that can pose different types of hazards — some more hazardous than others, some that don't necessarily pose significant hazards. These factors can all vary by region, and they can potentially vary by scale of operation or marketing channels … We know we're coming into an incredibly complex arena to try to set enforceable standards, which is the charge we're expecting to get from Congress.”
The Food Safety Modernization Act, if passed into law, would basically give the FDA additional regulatory powers and would likely increase the number of inspections required for growers and other food facilities. Currently, the agency only inspects about 24% of the food facilities in the U.S. each year.
The new regulations are a work in progress, and Taylor emphasized that the agency has been conducting outreach efforts to learn about the produce industry's current best practices.
“We know we have a lot to learn, we know we need more data and information from the industry … In my time around FDA and USDA, this is a really unprecedented effort to reach out to the community before we write a proposal.”