The Food and Drug Administration is at least doing the easy thing right.


The hard decisions will come later.


In a sign the FDA is taking the right approach to crafting produce safety regulations, the agency opened a 90-day comment period to take input from stakeholders.


Industry leaders appreciate the chance to comment to the FDA before the first draft is actually written.


Comments the agency is seeking “will inform the development of safety standards for fresh produce at the farm and packinghouse and strategies and cooperative efforts to ensure compliance.”


The FDA’s apparent intention is to have the proposed rule on food safety measures that would help prevent contamination of fresh produce by pathogens completed by the end of 2010, with a final rule published by the end of 2011.


That timeline will come all too soon. Between now and then, the agency will have to answer questions about how to treat produce safety in the broad sense, when so much variability of risk exists between commodities.


The FDA must also consider the effect of mandatory produce safety regulations on smaller farms, the role of microbiological testing, if and how to prioritize produce safety risk actors, coordination of produce safety practices with environmental goals and countless other questions.


All those will be hard issues to resolve. The implications of the agency’s actions will eventually influence the cost of fruits and vegetables, the viability of smaller farms and the durability of the industry’s desire to be regulated.


The industry is thankful that at least the agency got the first step in the process right.


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