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FPAA is pleased comment period has been extended for foreign supplier verification

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration announced Nov. 19 that it was extending the comment period on two related rules under the Food Safety Modernization Act: the foreign supplier verification rule and the accreditation of third-party auditors rule.

"Comments on these two proposed rules, as well as comments on the information collection provisions associated with these rules, may be submitted in until Jan. 27, 2014," the FDA said. Comments were originally due Nov. 26.

"We were very pleased to see that the foreign supplier verification program rule and the third-party accreditation rule comments deadlines were pushed back until the January," Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas told The Produce News."The reason why we were pleased is legalistically there are some very interesting challenges" in the proposed rules, "and we need to make sure our comments are reflective of what is best under international trade norms."

As one example, he said, the foreign verification rule, as written, requires that results of any audit done by an accredited auditor on a foreign supplier's farm must be automatically submitted electronically to the FDA, "whether it is an FDA regulatory audit or just a routine audit once a month" that a grower has done voluntarily for his own assurance that he is his operations are remaining food-safety compliant.

A related provision in the proposed rules for third-party auditors would require all third-party auditors "to give those results directly to FDA."

That would be a little like saying that if a homeowner hired a licensed electrician to inspect a home to assure that it was up to code and there were no fire hazards, the electrician would be required to inform the fire marshal of any inadequacies observed.

There is "nothing like that" required of growers in the United States,” Jungmeyer said. "There is a principle under WTO called National Treatment" that "basically says you can't hold imported goods to a higher standard than you hold your own."

Working on comments for proposed rules under FSMA has been a major focus of the FPAA since the proposals were published earlier this year, according to Allison Moore, director of legislative and regulatory affairs. "We will have the produce rule and preventive control rules [for food facilities] comments going in by [Nov. 22]," she said. "Then we will shift our focus more in depth to the foreign supplier verification rules and the third party accreditation rules."

All of the work is being done "in coordination with our members and their growers [in Mexico] and the products that we are bringing in, to make sure we are getting good feedback," she said.

The FPAA is, in particular, "looking at very closely" at the foreign supplier rules, she said. The organization, in its comments, will be making suggestions "to make the rule better," have it "actually make sense" with respect to "how the real world operates" and to assure that the rules will be effective. If they are "not going to be effective," or if parts of them "don't make sense in the real world and there are better ways to do it, then it is our job to point that out,” she said.

FPAA has "several members that are keeping engaged in the process going through it line by line with us," she said.

Among the other issues that have been occupying the attention of the FPAA is the continuing effort to "address the staff shortcomings" at the port of entry in Nogales. "It's a problem at all the points of entry" along the southwest border, Jungmeyer said, but particularly so in Nogales. "We've got this brand new [and greatly expanded] port of entry that is being completed, and it needs 250 to 500 more officers to be able to keep the lanes open."

Providing adequate staffing is available, the new facility will do much to expedite crossing of produce into the United States. "We have had our eight lanes for commercial [traffic] open for quite some time," Moore said. That is twice the number of the old facility. "We have our new dock space all set, ready to use." There are now more than 50 dock spaces available for offloading for inspection, when required. "At this point, six of the passenger lanes are open, and the remaining six will be opening" within the year.