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Maine Fruit Growers Question Need for New Rules
04/22/2013   Reported By: Jennifer Mitchell

The Food and Drug Administration is proposing new rules regarding how fresh produce is handled, in an effort to meet the requirements of the Food Safety Modernization Act. The 2010 act directs the FDA to prevent food-borne illness. But some fruit farmers argue that they should be exempt from the new rules. Jennifer Mitchell reports.

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There have been serious outbreaks of food-borne illness linked to fresh produce in recent years: peanuts, cantaloupes, broccoli, and sprouts. All guilty. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimates that 46 percent of all food-borne illness comes from raw produce. But, so far, none of those big outbreaks have involved tree fruit.

"I think we're being painted with a broad brush - just easier to say 'all fresh produce' has to be treated the same way," says Marilyn Meyerhans, who has apple farms in Fairfield and Manchester.

The new rules call for a rigorous regimen of sanitizing, testing water, and taking measures to keep animals and birds away from crops.

Meyerhans points out that many growers are already doing these things as part of two other government programs. She fears that the new regulations would mean a third level of paperwork and expense in an industry where time is money.

"We're going to have to cover those costs somehow - the farmers can't keep eating this," Meyerhans says.

That could mean higher apple prices for consumers attempting to get their "five a day." Meyerhans is one of a growing body of tree fruit farmers who argue that their product is safer than produce that's grown on the ground, and that more paperwork doesn't mean safer food.

Michael Taylor, a deputy commissioner for foods with FDA, said in a statement that the department was attempting to develop regulations that were "both effective and practical."

The FDA proposed rules are open to comment through May 3.


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