(Oct. 9) WASHINGTON, D.C. — At first glance, two new bioterrorism-related rules to safeguard the food supply get passing marks from the produce industry.

In fact, the interim final rules, issued Oct. 9 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for Registration of Food Facilities and Prior Notice of Imported Food Shipments, appeared to ease some concerns.

“The big hang-up was the notification period, the so-called 24 hours, which, in fact, was never 24 hours,” said John McClung, president of the Mission-based Texas Produce Association. “But it was a substantial period of time, much more than we can accept. If they have reduced it to two hours by land, then that is probably something that is not unworkable.”

Flexibility was a plus in the rules, said Donna Garren, vice president of scientific and technical affairs for the Washington-based United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association.

“There still could be some tweaking to make sure trade is not negatively affected,” Garren said. “We have the same concerns but want to make sure we’re also doing that not at the expense of trade.”

Under the prior-notice regulation, notice of imported foods must be received and confirmed electronically by the FDA no more than five days before its arrival and no fewer than two hours before arrival by land via road, four hours before arrival by air or rail and eight hours before arrival by water.

“Certainly, it is an enormous improvement over what they had been talking about,” McClung said.

These rules were a product of the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002, which President Bush signed into law after Sept. 11.

The two new regulations are subject to a 75-day comment period and another 30-day comment period in March.

The first rule requires food importers to provide the FDA with advance notice about all food shipments imported or offered for import as of Dec. 12 and, the agency says, will enable the FDA and U.S. Customs and Border Protection to better coordinate inspections.

The FDA says that it expects to receive about 25,000 notifications about incoming shipments each day.