Lawmakers hail planned food safety rules

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The Obama administration’s decision to pull back and revise its landmark food safety overhaul is winning support from lawmakers from both parties and both chambers of Congress.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced Thursday that it would re-propose draft rules in support of the Food Safety Modernization Act sometime next summer, following more than 100 meetings with the public and groups with a stake in the update.

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“I’m glad the agency has listened and agreed to revise these unworkable rules,” Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said in a statement issued after the announcement.

The FDA’s decision comes nearly a year after the agency first proposed draft rules that would replace the nation’s system for responding to food-borne illness outbreaks with one designed to prevent them.

The sea change in policy — the biggest food safety overhaul in 70 years — has proven complex and contentious, as the administration constructs regulations governing food plants, warehouses and, for the first time, farms.

The FDA, in the course of gathering feedback on the proposal, has been pressured to take another run at the rules, which some argue would impose significant new burdens on the nation’s farmers and growers. In announcing the revisions, the FDA said its thinking on the rules had "evolved."

“The FDA is making the right call,” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) said. “There are serious concerns that have been raised by farmers and consumers in my state and across the country that the FDA must consider before finalizing rules.”

Shaheen said a second draft of the rules should stay clear of “overly burdensome or ambiguous regulations” contained in the initial proposed regulations.

In November, Shaheen, along with Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Reps. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.), Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.) and Ann McLane Kuster (D-N.H.), asked the FDA to reconsider the regulations.

The agency, however, faces a court-imposed deadline to implement the regulations. The FSMA, enacted three years ago, gave the FDA until 2012 to put new rules in place. The agency missed that deadline, drawing a lawsuit from the Center for Food Safety, a watchdog group that has demanded action in accordance with the law.

Earlier this year, a federal court ordered the FDA to finalize all rules related to the overhaul by the mid-2015. Yet even before Thursday’s announcement, the agency’s deputy commissioner for food safety stopped short of saying that timeframe was realistic.

“The deadlines are enormously challenging,” he told The Hill last week. “It’s a huge volume of rule-making.”