FDA will delay sweeping food safety rules to accommodate farmers

6:44 PM, Dec 19, 2013   |    comments
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WASHINGTON (CBS NEWS) -- The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will delay sweeping food safety rules proposed earlier this year and revise them to better accommodate farmers and businesses who would be affected.

The FDA says it wants to make sure the rules are practical for farmers who have to abide by them.

Michael Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods, said Thursday the agency's thinking has evolved and "significant changes" are needed.

"You spoke. We heard you," Taylor wrote in a blog post Thursday. "Because of the input we received from farmers and the concerns they expressed about the impact of these rules on their lives and livelihood, we realized that significant changes must be made, while ensuring that the proposed rules remain consistent with our food safety goals."

The rules proposed in January would require farmers to take added precautions against contamination, making sure workers' hands are washed, irrigation water is clean, and that animals stay out of fields.

The rules aimed to implement the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act

The long-overdue rules were proposed to reduce the estimated 48 million illnesses and 3,000 U.S. deaths a year from foodborne infections. In recent years there were large foodborne disease outbreaks of cyclospora linked to saladsalmonella in peanut butter, and listeria in cantaloupes.

Food manufacturers would have to submit food safety plans to the government to show they are keeping their operations clean, for example ensuring workers' hands are washed, irrigation water is clean and animals stay out of fields.

"With the support of industry, consumer groups, and the bipartisan leadership in Congress, we are establishing a science-based, flexible system to better prevent foodborne illness and protect American families," Health and Human ServicesSecretary Kathleen Sebelius, said at the time.

In July, the FDA also proposed stricter food safety rules for imports to make food importers accountable for verifying their overseas suppliers are using modern, prevention-oriented food safety practices to achieve "the same level of food safety as domestic growers and processors. The FDA estimated implementation of the import rules, which were also part of the Food Safety Modernization Act, would cost industries more than $480 million.

It is unclear if the import rule changes will also be affected by the FDA's new delay.

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