(Oct. 11) NOGALES, Ariz. —The Fresh Produce Association of the Americas is not happy with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The point of contention involves a new rule created by the FDA under the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002. The rule would require shippers to notify the FDA at least eight hours before imports are scheduled to cross the border.

What’s more, any shipment arriving early must wait the remainder of the eight hours before it will be allowed to cross the border.

Lee Frankel, president of the FPAA, said the new rule would just create more confusion and more complications at already crowded borders.

“If the administration was going to build sufficient facilities to handle all government inspections at the point of entry, then this would make sense,” he said. “But given that none of those things are in place, and given that other U.S. agencies want their inspections done, having the FDA dictate how this process is to be done doesn’t make any sense.”

Frankel said other government agencies, including the Department of Transportation and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture are already making more demands for information at the borders. The eight-hour rule from the FDA would only make matters worse and add even more time to the process of getting across the border.

The FDA did not return calls for this story.

Another potential problem is that many times, the drivers and truckloads that leave Mexican shippers are often not the same as the ones that arrive at the border. This happens because of higher freight costs in Mexico. Shippers will often load trucks with shipments carrying more weight than would be allowed on U.S. highways in order to reduce the cost per box.

Once a truck reaches Nogales, Mexico, for example, it will often be broken down into two truckloads, and information on the new truckload may not be available until just hours before it is ready to cross.

“If the FDA wants the driver’s name and the exact trailer that’s pulling the product, that’s going to be uncertain until that product is staged very close to the border,” Frankel said.

What’s more, Frankel said, the new information could distract the FDA from the tasks it is already performing at the border, thus gumming up the works even further.

Currently, the FDA uses a computer system that instantly reviews all entries of fresh produce and then holds for inspection any item that is out of the ordinary, like commodities from unlikely regions, or unknown companies or loads from companies with poor importing histories.

“The current system allows the FDA to effectively and efficiently allocate their resources,” Frankel said. “The eight-hour rule will destroy that effectiveness and efficiency as the FDA is forced to divert its attention to monitoring an arbitrary prior notice rule.”

One potential solution is to have shippers give nightly advance notices as to what has left their packing sheds and is heading for the border, Frankel said, but he fears even that could prove too much of a distraction.

“What is gained by having the eight hours?” he said. “It is ultimately a distraction and not an aid.”

Furthermore, Frankel expressed concern that the ruling could have the effect of putting trucks in harm’s way, as any truck that arrives at the border with less than eight hours’ advance notice will be forced to wait until the eight hour period has passed.

“A truck idling, possibly overnight, on the side of an unsecured highway is clearly more vulnerable to intentional contamination than a truck that is allowed to cross immediately,” he said.