United Fresh focuses on transportation, import rules at Washington Conference

WASHINGTON — The United Fresh Produce Association met with federal lawmakers recently carrying a short list of must-haves at its Washington Conference, but the three-day meeting also delved into a list of regulations the produce industry is closely scrutinizing.

The Food Safety Modernization Act’s proposed regulation for sanitary transportation includes a provision that could easily render shipments adulterated if records show a variation in temperature controls, Jon Samson of the Agricultural & Food Transporters Conference said at a Sept. 9 session, here.

“This could substantially increase cargo claims,” he warned. “We want more flexibility in the rule.”

The Food & Drug Administration’s first federal rule for hauling food underestimates compliance costs and exempts small trucking companies, which could hurt their businesses in the long run, he warned. More than 90 percent of trucking companies operate six trucks or fewer, and refrigerated truck companies are even smaller, he said.

The FDA needs to provide details on a range of issues, including how and who will maintain records, before the rule becomes final by March 2016.

Samson said the American Trucking Association also is working with Congress to suspend some provisions of the hours-of-service changes that were implemented in July 2013. The rule requires a 30-minute break during the first eight-hour shift. But depending on the shifts, carriers could end up having to take two 30-minute rest periods to comply with the rule, and that’s costly, he said.

Legislation that would delay enforcement of the rules for at least a year while a study is undertaken is moving through Congress, Samson said.

Imports have their own issues, and Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Fresh Produce Association, said changes are needed to ease the flow of trade.

More Customs officials are needed on the U.S. side for the nation’s busiest ports of entry, and a memorandum of understanding that would have the U.S. government recognize Mexico’s food safety and quality inspections would go a long way, Jungmeyer said.

Importers are keeping a close eye on the FDA’s plans to collect importer fees to pay for FSMA, a move that would affect border crossings, he said.

“Each new fee may invite retaliatory measures by foreign governments,” Jungmeyer warned.

Other changes on the produce industry’s plate include the Animal Plant & Health Inspection Service’s proposed user fees for inspection services to prevent pests and diseases and changes to container inspections.

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