Once I was introduced while taking a final examination in college by the professor as a new student in the class. Being just a little slow to get to classes was the sign of a procrastinator. I’ve always fought against being one, but I’ve always come to accept that we are a nation of procrastinators.
That national trait was on display this past week, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave everybody an extra week to comment on the produce and preventive control rules for implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
Many were obviously counting on FDA putting additional time on the comment clock after the Regulation.gov website started sputtering on the eve of the original Nov. 15 deadline. But who would have guessed that almost another 2,000 would comment on the produce rule and almost another 1,000 on the preventative controls rules – and would make the extended deadline?
Who would have guessed that so many would take it down to the wire? Final counts are 13,461 comments on the produce rule and 6,181 on preventive controls. A crush of comments also came in just ahead of the original Nov. 15 deadline.
Much of the credit for generating this response—albeit at the final moment–goes to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. Relatively late in the process, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture joined by the United Fresh Produce Association came up with the strategy of persuading FDA to issue a second set of these rules.
But it was left to NSAC to pull the cord on a truly grassroots campaign to get the job done. This organization did something fairly rare in that it educated and activated its members to make specific criticism without challenging the basic underpinnings of the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2010.
This means FDA is going to have its work cut out for it as many of those nearly 20,000 comments it has to review are going to be from serious players. And we procrastinators do know how to pour it on. NSAC’s own comments on the produce rule, turned on the last day, run 180 pages.
“NSAC’s comments on the proposed regulations reflect the concerns of sustainable and organic farmers and food businesses that are pioneering farming practices and food supply chains to increase consumer access to healthy food, sustain the environment, and create new economic opportunities,” said Ariane Lotti, NSAC’s Assistant Policy Director. “NSAC’s recommendations are aimed at improving the regulations so that they advance food safety goals while simultaneously supporting sustainable agriculture and food systems. As proposed, the regulations will severely restrict the use of sustainable farming practices, inhibit diversification and innovation in farming and short supply chains, and fail to provide workable, affordable options for family farmers.”
“The proposed regulations fail to meet the requirements that Congress set forth in FSMA for a flexible approach that reflects different risks at different scales and supply chains” added Lotti.
Mike Taylor, who heads up the food side of FDA, has been doing his own “listening” tours of farms and produce businesses. Now he and his people have much to wade through that comes from he folks who will be most impacted by these rules.
“NSAC is grateful for the agency’s outreach during the comment period, and looks forward to continuing to work with FDA to craft flexible, science-based regulations that support agricultural diversity and a healthier food system,” said Lotti. “Supporting thriving local and regional food systems and ensuring a safe food supply are complementary, not competing, goals.”
As all of us procrastinators know, in the end, no one remembers when the work was turned in or who was in attendance at what class. It’s the outcomes that are important. And for the record, I got in A in that class.