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Agricultural concerns may spark changes in federal government’s food safety policies

Members of the SVID board of directors heard what appears to be good news last Friday about the federal government’s plans to likely pull back on some controversial food safety proposals.

An update to the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011 was proposed last year, which could have potentially handcuffed the irrigation district and its users.

During their meeting on Friday, the board received an update from SVID General Manager Jim Trull about the FDA’s decision last month to make changes in the proposed rule.

The portion of the rule of most concern locally is a proposed revision that would require steps to monitor irrigation water quality.

A key issue was language in the original proposal requiring monitoring for “every point of delivery.” As a provider of irrigation water to more than 80,000 acres, SVID has hundreds of delivery points.

If high levels of bacteria are found in a water sample, the rule would have required shutting down the entire irrigation system until the contaminant source is found or removed.

In addition, growers and the irrigation district and even Congressman Doc Hastings were concerned about language in the proposal that held tree fruit to the same standards as produce grown on the ground like lettuce.

“I think it’s a terrible rule, we’ve been fighting it,” Hastings said during a stop in Sunnyside last summer. “Targeting lettuce and fruit trees is insanity.”

Though the FDA will now revisit its proposals for the Food Safety Modernization Act, Trull notes it won’t likely be until this summer before the agency actually announces its plans.

“At this point all we can do is cross our fingers,” he said this morning (Monday).

Trull praised FDA officials for taking the time to actually visit farms and ag warehouses in the Yakima area and north central Washington to see the issues first hand.

Seeing and hearing those concerns from farmers and national ag organizations apparently had an impact on the FDA’s planning process.

Michael R. Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, said in an official statement that last month’s decision to review the proposal came “…because of the input we received from farmers and the concerns they expressed about the impact of these rules on their lives and livelihood.”

Taylor added, “We realized that significant changes must be made, while ensuring that the proposed rules remain consistent with our food safety goals.”

For SVID and irrigators and growers it’s now a matter of standing by to see what changes the FDA will actually deliver this summer.

“It’s good news,” Trull said. “They clearly understand the dilemma posed by some of their regulations, but it’s still a waiting game.”

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