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Farmers urged to comment on proposed federal fruit, vegetable growing regulations

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These days, fruit growers need to be concerned about more than yielding a crop, especially with proposed new rules on food safety, according to Juan Anciso, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service horticulture specialist in Weslaco.

Anciso said fruit and vegetable growers have until Nov. 15 to comment on the proposed Food Safety Modernization Act, federal regulations that will set standards for the growing, harvesting, packing and holding of produce for human consumption.

“Growers have to be aware of food safety issues and use Good Agricultural Practices to keep the food clean as you grow it,” Anciso told participants at the recent Texas Fruit Conference in Bryan. He noted that recently some farmers have been criminally charged for “adulterating” produce, a charge that now can be made whether a grower knows of the adulteration or not.

Irrigation rules written into the proposal are one area that merit close examination and comment, he said.

“Growers in the Rio Grande Valley irrigate from the river, and there are microbes in it,” Anciso said. “There is a regulation proposed on how much E. coli can be in irrigation water to be used for food crops, for example.”

He said the Food and Drug Administration wants to set an upper limit of 235 colony-forming E. coli units in a water sample to be used for watering food crops. But Anciso said that number comes from the level that is required to protect people swimming in water.

“It is not scientific to use those numbers for irrigation. The values have never been tested in the field to assess risk, and there is no peer reviewed scientific document to tell what the risk is above 235 units,” he said. “Drip or furrow irrigation on apples, for example, should make that crop exempt since the water doesn’t touch the fruit. And five days after (the) last irrigation, the microbes drop by one to four times in produce such as spinach. There is scientific peer review for that.”

Anciso suggested that the law may need to be adjusted to match real-world application rather than issue a blanket code for all crops.

He said when final rules become law, they will be adopted over time with the larger farms having fewer years to comply. He acknowledged that almost 80 percent of the 190,000 U.S. produce farms are not covered by the proposed FDA rules, but about 90 percent of the U.S. food crop acres are potentially vulnerable to harmful contamination.

The FDA has fact sheets for the 550-page proposed regulations at http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/FSMA/ucm247546.htm. Comments can be made at http://www.regulations.gov/. All comments already submitted can be viewed there as well.

Ancisco also urged fruit growers to take the online food safety training at http://agrilifefoodsafety.tamu.edu/. Information about the AgriLife Food Safety App for mobile devices is at that website too, he noted.

Date: 11/04/2013



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