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    PMA’s Food Safety Government Relations: Food Safety Bill Implementation

    Hello, this is PMA public relations manager Meg Miller, and welcome back to our audio blog, “Ask Dr. Bob” with PMA’s Chief Science & Technology Officer Dr. Bob Whitaker. This is the third, and last, post in a series on PMA’s government affairs activities in the food safety area. In the previous post, Bob told us much of his effort over the next few years will be spent on implementation of the new food safety law. Bob, why is the rulemaking process so important?

    Meg, the law is basically a blueprint. Now it’s up to FDA to build regulations to fit it. We can break the process into two areas: pre-rulemaking and rulemaking.  Pre-rulemaking is the period before the agency publishes a proposed rule, when it can talk freely with industry. We’re in this period now and we need to interact as much as possible with FDA.  We’ll be focusing on one-on-one meetings with FDA to discuss key issues within the legislation. We’ll use these encounters to put forward our member’s position on specific issues, and then offer ideas on how FDA might accomplish its goals in a way that considers industry’s needs. 

    We’ll also use combined PMA committee meetings that will be held in Washington, D.C., in June 2011.  We have three PMA committee meetings happening simultaneously at this time: the Produce Safety, Science & Technology, the Government Affairs and the Supply Chain Technologies Committees. They’ll work both together and separately on key food safety issues.  We’ll harness all the expertise assembled to make government decision makers aware of issues we may have with aspects of the current bill, and to enhance our ability to influence the rulemaking process.

    We’ll also leverage the Center for Produce Safety’s credibility to affect rulemaking, including pushing for more produce-specific research funding to better define food safety measureables. CPS’s role is bigger than just providing input on rulemaking. Produce-specific food safety research has not historically been a government priority, so the rulemaking process gives us an opportunity to elevate the role of research with FDA.

    Now, once the rulemaking process officially begins, the environment will change, right?

    That’s right. At that point, the agency cannot discuss anything related to its implementing regulation work with any stakeholders. At that point, FDA will only be able to receive input through formal channels related to the rulemaking process, including any public hearings it might hold, and the public comment process. Our focus will then turn to providing written comments, participating in hearings, and encouraging our members to do the same. 

    I think this is where PMA can be especially effective.  We can leverage our volunteer committees to provide FDA with comprehensive, supply chain input on key facets of the food safety rules, and help shape the direction of those implementing regulations.

    Are there particular parts of the legislation that we’re planning to focus on?

    Definitely. There are some parts of the legislation that PMA won’t be able to influence at all because FDA will address them internally. There are other parts we can probably influence somewhat, and then there are still other parts that we think we’ve got lots of room to work on.

    Parts we consider included in the “not much room to influence” bucket include the law’s sections regarding access to record, registration, and the small and local farms and facilities exemption that we couldn’t support. Our main concern there is that we feel exemption could limit market opportunities for small growers who become exempt.  It’s important to remember, in addition to  government regulation, there are also marketplace pressures, such as food safety standards set by buyers – and ultimately the marketplace holds the hammer, so the marketplace really decides who gets to sell their products to whom. With all the focus on food safety, product liabilities and brand protection, it is increasingly hard to see any buyers wanting to source products from a company that doesn’t have a food safety plan. Having said that, PMA is committed to helping exempt growers that still want to have market access and develop food safety programs. In fact PMA has been conducting local and smaller grower food safety training seminars around the country to help growers develop food safety programs.

    The “more room to work” bucket includes the law’s requirements regarding laboratory accreditation and testing, importer verification of foreign suppliers, fast track entry, accreditation of third-party auditors, FDA inspections, foreign inspections, and recall and outbreak response. The law’s requirement that food be tested and testing laboratories be accredited is certainly an important area for us. Anyone who has listened to our posts on product testing knows that there are complex issues surrounding the question of testing. As producers of perishable products, we’re very aware of the market impacts of anything that slows our products getting to market. So, issues of perishability, timing and who gets the test results will be front and center in this discussion. The rules for third-party auditors to inspect foreign facilities will be another big change for our industry.  And, FDA’s beefed-up recall authority will present issues of implementation and cooperation.

    As for where we’re hoping to have significant room to provide input and guide FDA’s rules, those include the areas of food safety plans, produce standards, traceability and recordkeeping, and posting of recalls.  We’ll want emphasize some guiding principles with FDA as they look at requirements for food safety plans and produce standards.  We’ll also want to make sure to provide input on the traceability and recordkeeping requirements, and closely monitor how any new rules fit with the Produce Traceability Initiative. These areas, as well as how recall notices get posted at grocery chains, are all areas where PMA and our industry can work as a “solution provider” with FDA.

    Wow! It’s quite the task we have ahead of us, Bob. Listeners, if you’d like specifics on the Food Safety Modernization Act please check out the PMA Resources section on PMA’s website for the Government Relations page.  You’ll also want to check out our new online Food Safety Resource Center there. Thanks for joining us…until next time!

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