FDA eases landmark food safety overhaul

The Obama administration on Friday proposed a revised plan to overhaul the nation's food safety system, rolling out eased regulations that officials maintain are still strong enough to protect the public from illness outbreaks. 

A slate of four new draft rules reflects the core of a planned sea change in the government's strategy for protecting the U.S. food supply — replacing a system of reacting to illness outbreaks with a network of regulations designed to prevent them. 

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) first proposed the rules more than a year ago but announced the planned revisions in December, saying its thinking had "evolved" on how the regulations would impact farmers. 

“Based on valuable input from farmers, consumers, the food-industry and academic experts, the FDA is proposing to update these four proposed rules to ensure a more flexible and targeted means to ensure food safety,” said Michael Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods.

Ultimately, the FDA revised four of seven rules that the agency began proposing in January of last year. 

The four updated proposed rules include requirements governing farmersfood plants and warehousesanimal food and a proposed foreign supplier verification program for imported foods. 

The new regulations will be published in the Federal Register on Monday, starting the clock on a new, 75-day comment period. 

The new draft rules contain revised provisions for water-quality testing on farms to account for natural variations in water sources — as well as adjusted language related to manure and compost used in the production of crops. 

The agency is also proposing to narrow the application of its produce safety rule. The new rule would not apply to farms with $25,000 or less in annual produce sales. The previous proposal also set the threshold at $25,000 but included all food grown on the farm. 

The changes are meant to strike a balance between allowing industry flexibility without sacrificing public health protections sought by the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act, FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg said. 

“The FDA believes these updated proposed rules will lead to a modern, science-based food safety system that will better protect American consumers from potentially hazardous food,” she said.