No more comments can be submitted about the Food and Drug Administration’s proposed produce safety rule, but the agency has opened a comment period on its draft of the environmental impact statement for the rule.

FDA seeks comments on environmental impact of produce ruleFDA announced the availability of the draft of the so-called EIS in the Federal Register Jan. 12. The 60-day comment period ends March 13 and the agency does not plan to extend it, according to a notice issued Jan. 13.

A public meeting on the draft of the EIS is set for Feb. 10 in College Park, Md. FDA has created a special Web page with details about the draft, the comment process and ongoing news on the draft. It is at http://tinyurl.com/ProduceRuleEIS.

“It (the draft EIS) focuses on four areas in the proposed rule that could significantly affect the environment: the definition of covered farms, water quality standards, the use of raw manure and compost and provisions affecting domesticated and wild animals. Of these, only the water standards were found to potentially have a significant adverse environmental impact,” according to a news release.

Water provisions in the proposed produce safety rule have been of great concern to growers who have said it will be too costly to implement the required testing schedules.

Growers of some commodities wanted to be exempt because of their growing and harvesting practices and others complained that the acceptable pathogen levels were set too low in the proposed rule.

Most growers will not need to switch from surface water to groundwater or chemically treat their water, according to the FDA release.

“The draft EIS identified the proposed supplemental changes, which would allow time for potentially dangerous microbes in agricultural water to die off, as the environmentally preferred option. The flexibility provided by this option is the reason why most covered farms would not need to change their water source or treat their water with chemicals,” according to the FDA release.

The FDA estimates that the rule, if implemented as proposed, would prevent an estimated 1.57 million foodborne illnesses each year.