Almost 100 groups representing fresh fruits and vegetables — from apples to wild blueberries — say they need much more time to comment on the Food and Drug Administration’s proposed produce safety rules.

Groups ask for more time for food safety commentsCiting their complexity and dependence on yet-to-be issued rules on foreign supplier verification and third-party certification, the groups on April 11 asked the FDA to extend comment periods for the produce safety rule and the preventive controls rule. Those deadlines are May 16, following a 120-day comment period that began Jan. 16.

The groups’ letter said it is impossible to comment without seeing the specifics of other food safety rules that are pending.

The group is asking for comments to be accepted for 6 months, starting after the last of the food safety regulations are released — including ones for foreign suppliers and third-party certifiers.

“As subsequent rules are issued, meaningful opportunity must be afforded to stakeholders to comments on the effect of all the proposed rules together,” according to the letter to FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg.

The letter says that the FDA asked more than 100 questions to interested stakeholders in the proposed regulations.

“Some of these questions require scientific and economic analysis that could take months if not years to fully synthesize comments around, not the 120 days as anticipated under the produce and preventive controls proposed rule,” accordig to the letter.

The groups who signed the letter represented Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh, Irvine, Calif.-based Western Growers and Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association and many importer, regional and state produce associations.

Even with previous comment period extensions for record-keeping and risk-assessment aspects of the rules, David Gombas, senior vice president of food safety and technology for United Fresh, said there has not been enough time to digest the primary produce safety and preventive controls regulations and offer meaningful comment to the agency.

“Clearly there are going to be things in the rules that we are going to recommend different approaches for,” Gombas said. “We just want to make sure we have time to do that wisely.”

Gombas said the FDA’s differentiation between farms and facilities is one area of concern for the industry. He said the industry is reviewing how the FDA determines regulatory effect estimates. More time is needed to determine how the FDA came up with cost estimates and if those estimates are accurate, he said.