Testimony of Pew Expert Sandra Eskin on the Supplemental FSMA Produce Proposal

Testimony of Pew Expert Sandra Eskin on the Supplemental FSMA Produce Proposal

On Nov. 13, Pew’s food safety director, Sandra Eskin, delivered testimony before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act’s supplemental proposal for produce.

Good afternoon, my name is Sandra Eskin, and I am the director of food safety at The Pew Charitable Trusts.  Pew applies a rigorous, analytical approach to improve public policy, inform the public, and stimulate civic life. Through Pew’s safe food project, we seek to reduce health risks from foodborne pathogens by strengthening federal government authority and the enforcement of food safety laws.

I will focus my testimony today on three issues.  First, on the issue of agricultural water, we support the agency’s revised approach, which retains a quantitative standard—an updated recreational water standard developed by EPA—while providing flexibility in the testing requirements that ensure this standard is being met.  We will wait to discuss more specific aspects relating to the water requirements in our written comments. 

Second, we oppose FDA’s tentative decision to abandon any minimum time interval between applying raw manure and harvesting crops.  We are concerned that this approach unacceptably increases the risk to public health. There is no debate that raw manure contains pathogens that can contaminate fresh produce and make people sick, which is what makes FDA’s change of position so surprising.  We believe that, at the very least, FDA should codify the manure standard used in the National Organic Program, until further research and analysis can support more science-based requirements.   

Third, we are concerned about the agency’s proposal to allow for reinstatement of the qualified exemption when it has been revoked.  We support FDA’s tentative decision to provide some basic due process protections before withdrawing an exemption, but we believe that the agency should not   provide for reinstatement, when this option has not been provided in the underlying law.  We fear that,    by creating a right to reinstatement, FDA will encourage growers who initially qualify for the exemption to sell contaminated produce, knowing that they will be able to quickly fix a problem and regain an exemption. If reinstatement is allowed, then it is likely that more contaminated produce would be sold and the risk that consumers will contract a foodborne illness will increase. This result would undercut the central goal of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act.