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FDA issues final ag water rule, IFPA reacts

In response to the publication release of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's final rule on agricultural water, the International Fresh Produce Association is pleased to see feedback from the organization and its volunteers incorporated into the regulation.

"Since its introduction in 2015 as a subpart of the FSMA Produce Safety Rule, our industry has been working with the FDA to enhance the original agricultural water regulation so it is easier to understand and implement," said IFPA chief food safety & regulatory officer Natalie Dyenson. "This final rule highlights FDA's willingness to incorporate stakeholder feedback and put forth a rule that protects public health."

In 2022, the FDA issued a new pre-harvest agricultural water rule and held public meetings to solicit public comment on the proposed changes to the rule. IFPA responded with testimony from the organization's vice president of regulatory compliance & global food safety standards Dr. Emily Moyer who called for regulations with flexibility that allow produce growers to manage risks unique to their production environments.

"A vast majority of fresh produce growers are already managing their ag water risks as a response to buyer or third-party audit requirements. Now, we finally have a set rule that federally regulates pre-harvest ag water," said Moyer.

Left to right: Natalie Dyenson, Dr. Emily Moyer

The FDA stated the revised requirements to the rule are intended to enhance public health by improving the safety of water used in produce cultivation and are designed to be practical across various agricultural water systems, uses, and practices while remaining adaptable to future advancements in agricultural water quality science. Specifically, the rule:

  • Establishes requirements for agricultural water assessments that evaluate a variety of factors that are key determinants of contamination risks associated with pre-harvest agricultural water.
  • Includes testing pre-harvest agricultural water as part of an assessment in certain circumstances.
  • Requires farms to implement effective mitigation measures within specific timeframes based on findings from their assessments. Hazards related to certain activities associated with adjacent and nearby land uses are subject to expedited mitigation.
  • Adds new options for mitigation measures, providing farms with additional flexibility in responding to findings from their pre-harvest agricultural water assessments.

Volunteer members of the IFPA Food Safety Council have been focused on the agricultural water rule as one of their priorities. In 2023, a subset of the Council created guidance materials (shared with the FDA) to help the industry prepare for compliance with the then-proposed regulation's requirements, address commonly found uncertainties with the rule, and provide additional resources for the produce industry.

One such IFPA resource is Water Treatment: The Label is the Law, an analysis that focuses on the legalities of treating agricultural water, which applies to pre-harvest, harvest and post-harvest water uses.

For more information:
Ashley Sempowski
International Fresh Produce Association
[email protected]

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