(Feb. 10) The Food and Drug Administration’s proposed rule requiring that notice be given before food is imported to the U.S. has rightfully raised alarm throughout the fresh produce industry.

In an effort to follow provisions of the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act, the FDA wants to receive notice no later than noon the day before shipments of food arrive at the U.S. border or port of entry.

The FDA also wants all domestic and foreign facilities that manufacture, pack, process or hold food to register with it.

All of this, of course, comes in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

The agency says the proposed regulations would allow it to ensure that the nation’s food supply remains safe.

No one can — or should — argue with that. Only those with their heads in the sand fail to realize that the world is an increasingly dangerous place and that nations must take precautions to ensure their citizens’ safety and security.

Nonetheless, the proposed rules, especially the one requiring notice of shipments, would impose undue hardships on the produce industry, particularly U.S. trading partners Canada and Mexico.

As Lee Frankel, president of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, Nogales, Ariz., points out, the proposed notice provision doesn’t give the needed flexibility to produce growers and shippers who sometimes don’t know what will be harvested and shipped until they go to the fields each day.

Donna Garren, vice president of scientific and technical affairs for the United Fresh Fruit & Produce Association, Washington, D.C., echoed Frankel’s comments.

It’s not as if shipments would come into the nation undetected. One must remember that produce, regardless of where it originates, will be inspected at U.S. borders and ports.

The FDA will accept comments on its proposals until April 12. It plans to issue the final rules six months later.

The produce industry needs to make its voice heard on these measures — before it’s too late.