(June 2) Someone is listening.

Proving that submitting comments during government rule making can make a difference, the U.S. government announced May 27 that food importers will be able to use an integrated system to alert the Food and Drug Administration and the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection of expected shipments.

The decision will mean importers won’t have to duplicate their efforts to fulfill the data requirements of both agencies.

Getting government agencies to work together has always been a daunting task, but it has never been more important. Clearly, the efficiencies and economies gained by the move will not only help business, but it will assist U.S. officials who are increasing their efforts at thwarting possible terror threats in food shipments.

The FDA has said the prior notification requirement for food shipments — a provision of the bioterrorism act passed by Congress in 2002 — will go into effect no later than Dec. 12.

When the final rule is published relating to the controversial prior notice provision of the act — expected in October — the FDA needs to prove again it has listened to industry complaints that the proposed rule lacks needed flexibility for perishable agricultural commodities.

The Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, Nogales, Ariz., has noted that grape vineyards in Mexico are just three hours from the border. Ideally, grapes picked in the morning could be shipped to the U.S. later that day. Under the prior notice rule, a load that is finalized on 12:01 p.m. Monday would have to wait until Wednesday to cross.

The FDA should strongly consider an exemption to the prior notice rule for fresh fruits and vegetables in order to prevent a border backlog and additional security concerns for government officials.