Onion growers optimistic about water rule revisions

08/23/2013 04:43:00 PM
Coral Beach

click image to zoomFDA tour of Skeen Farms Inc. onion operationCourtesy Snake River ProduceThe FDA tour included stops at fields during harvest, such as this discussion at Skeen Farms Inc., Nyssa, Ore., as well as visits to packing and storage facilities.Onion growers would prefer a blanket exemption, said Kay Riley, general manager of Snake River Produce, Nyssa, Ore. He said he was encouraged by the visit from Taylor, Assar and several other FDA officials, but he said he doesn’t quite understand why the current discussion is taking place.

“The National Onion Association submitted guidelines to the FDA three years ago and we haven’t heard anything,” Riley said. “I feel like the issue isn’t with our water, but is with their regulation. We need risk-based, not practice-based rules.”

Taylor said before such a variance can be allowed, the agency needs additional scientific evidence to support the growers’ position.

Riley said current research projects at the Oregon State University Experiment Station in Ontario and at Seattle-based research firm Intertox will do just that. He said the FDA’s extension for comments on the proposed produce rule that contains the water regulation will help the onion growers greatly.

The extension allows comments and scientific evidence to be submitted through Nov. 15.

They are under the gun now to have all of the FSMA rules final and published by summer 2015.

Taylor said they will meet the court deadline no matter what, and the rules will include a final produce rule with a final water regulation.

“The court deadline will be met,” Taylor said. “But enforcement of the water regulation is at least six years away because of the built-in time for producers to make changes to bring their operations into compliance.”

Taylor said discussions with the growers in the Northwest showed him that industry is working hard to gather data to support its position.

“This trip makes me confident that we can work with industry on this proposed regulation,” Taylor said. “It’s inspirational to see such commitment to food safety already present in these operations.”


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