United Fresh Produce Association submitted comments to the FDA Jan. 27 on a proposed rule under the Food Safety and Modernization Act, the Foreign Supplier Verification Programs for Importers of Food for Humans and Animals (Foreign Supplier Verification Rule). United’s comments reflect review by diverse expert working groups who spent 10 months reviewing the proposed rules.

The working groups represent numerous member companies throughout the fresh produce supply chain.

“From the beginning of our work to pass food safety legislation, we’ve advocated for a level playing field for foreign and domestic producers,” said Dr. David Gombas, United senior vice president of food safety and technology. “It’s critical that FDA establishes food safety requirements that keep consumers safe and that all suppliers meet, no matter what their geographic location or size.”

In its comments on the Foreign Supplier Verification Rule, the association raises several key issues:

Direct Suppliers - The importer’s Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP) should be limited to the direct supplier, not the supplier’s suppliers. We agree that the importer should hold the aggregator accountable for meeting food safety regulatory requirements in its supply chain, but the importer should not be responsible for having specific detailed information about each of the original growers. 

Verify Compliance with Relevant Regulation - FSVP should be limited to verifying compliance with the relevant regulation. We encourage FDA to limit importers’ requirements to verification that direct suppliers are in compliance with the relevant regulation and to not require importers of fresh produce to perform a hazard analysis beyond the scope of the Produce Safety rule.

Same Requirements as Domestic Suppliers - Foreign suppliers should follow the same requirements as domestic suppliers; therefore, standards for foreign suppliers should be the same as those in the Produce Safety rule, subject to the revisions we have recommended.

In the Produce Safety rule, FDA proposed to limit the risks covered in the rule to microbiological, not chemical or physical hazards.  However, in the Foreign Supplier Verification rule, FDA proposes to require importers to evaluate potential chemical and physical hazards in fresh produce exported to the United States.  This potentially requires foreign fresh produce growers to comply with food safety standards that exceed requirements of domestic operations, inviting a WTO challenge. 

No Exemption for Small Foreign Suppliers - While very small foreign suppliers may have size-appropriate requirements, there should not be any exemptions.  Importers’ requirements should be the same, regardless of the importer’s or foreign supplier’s size.

Flexibility of Tools and Approach - Importers should be allowed to use whatever tools/approach they deem appropriate for evaluating foreign suppliers’ compliance with the applicable regulation.

United working groups also reviewed the proposed Produce Safety Rule and the Preventive Controls Rule. United issued comments for those rules on Nov. 15. To review United’s complete comments on the proposed Foreign Supplier Verification Rule, Produce Safety Rule and Preventive Controls Rule and, visit the United Fresh website.