Foreign supplier verification requirements for importers under the Food Safety and Modernization Act should apply to direct suppliers, not companies that supply them, the United Fresh Produce Association said in comments on the proposed rule.

United Fresh and the Produce Marketing Association both submitted comments Jan. 27 to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Bob Whitaker, PMA’s chief science and technology officer, outlined the trade group’s views in an 11-minute online video.

United Fresh’s comments reflect review by working groups who spent 10 months reviewing the Foreign Supplier Verification rule, representing member companies throughout the fresh produce supply chain.

United Fresh agreed that the importer should hold the aggregator accountable for meeting food safety regulatory requirements in its supply chain, but the importer should not be required to have detailed information about each of the original growers.

On other issues, United Fresh recommends that the Foreign Supplier Verification Program be limited to verifying compliance with relevant regulation. It asks the FDA not to require importers to perform a hazard analysis beyond the scope of the Produce Safety rule.

Foreign suppliers, moreover, should follow the same requirements as domestic suppliers, according to United Fresh. That means standards for foreign suppliers should be the same as those in the Produce Safety rule, subject to revisions recommended by the trade group.

In the Foreign Supplier Verification rule, the FDA proposes to require importers to evaluate potential chemical and physical hazards in fresh produce exported to the U.S. That would potentially require foreign growers to comply with food safety standards that exceed requirements of domestic operations, inviting a World Trade Organization challenge, according to United Fresh. Small foreign suppliers should not be exempt from the rule, though there may be size-appropriate requirements, according to United Fresh.

Importers should be allowed to use whatever approach they deem appropriate for evaluating foreign supplier compliance with the applicable regulation, according to the trade organization.

United Fresh’s comments on proposed FSMA rules are online.

“From the beginning of our work to pass food safety legislation, we’ve advocated for a level playing field for foreign and domestic producers,” David Gombas, United Fresh senior vice president of food safety and technology, said in a news release. “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.”