By Aaron Shier, NFU Senior Government Relations Representative and Billy Mitchell, Food Safety Training Coordinator

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is opening their virtual doors to everyone, including the farming community, to comment on the proposed food traceability rule. National Farmers Union (NFU), which regularly comments on federal rulemakings important to its members, will certainly be weighing in. As NFU developed its comments, we consulted our grassroots, member-driven policy, as well as key staff, members, and outside groups with expertise in food safety.

But FDA also needs to hear from you: the farmers and food businesses that will be directly affected by the rule. Commenting on federal rules is an opportunity to be heard and to share your personal experience. Whether you have never submitted comments before, or you have done so many times before, we can help you get up to speed on the rule and how to comment.

What is the traceability rule?

FDA wrote the traceability rule to comply with a provision on “high-risk foods” in FSMA, the Food Safety Modernization Act. FSMA already requires some farms and food businesses to keep certain records. This new proposed rule will impose additional recordkeeping requirements if you manufacture, process, pack, or hold foods that are included on the “Food Traceability List” (FTL). FDA’s proposal would affect some farms, grocery stores, processors, and retailers if they are growing, buying, processing, or selling certain items on the list, such as fruits, vegetables, herbs, sprouts, eggs, and soft cheeses. Note that the FTL may change over time. Depending on where your business falls in the supply chain, there is specific information you would need to maintain as records and that you must share with other supply chain actors, or with FDA in the event of an outbreak investigation.

FDA has proposed some modest exemptions for farms, including a broad exemption when farms sell food directly to consumers. Narrower exemptions are included for small entities, including farms with less than $25,000 in annual sales, or for egg producers keeping fewer than 3,000 laying hens.

Why FDA needs to hear from you!

Traceability, and the recordkeeping that facilities use for tracking and tracing, can make our food system safer and protect public health. But new recordkeeping requirements can mean new and added costs: real time, labor, and possibly new systems for you to implement. If the proposed rule is finalized and you grow food on the traceability list, you will probably be required to maintain records on the GPS coordinates for the field where the food was grown and harvested, as well as the date and time the food was harvested, cooled, packed, and/or shipped. It might be challenging for small or very small businesses to absorb the increased recordkeeping costs.

Should I comment on the proposed rule?

If you grow, sell, or buy an item on the food traceability list, you should consider sharing your unique story and how you think the rule will impact you. Even if you are exempt from the rule, it can be important to comment, because the buyer (for example, a food hub or a grocery store), may still require you to provide them with the kind of records required by the rule. Also, it will be helpful if you share with FDA if, and how you are already doing traceability on your farm or in your food business.

How do I comment?

FDA is accepting comments on this proposed rule, but only until Monday, February 22, 2021, at 11:59 pm Eastern Time. If you decide to comment, first make sure to review the “Commenter’s Checklist,” which includes tips for submitting effective comments.

Please visit the Local Food Safety Collaborative website, along with the Food Safety Resource Clearinghouse, for a curated source of food safety guides, factsheets, templates, and more. Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for updates on the latest food safety news.

The National Farmers Union Foundation’s Local Food Safety Collaborative is an FDA-funded initiative to provide training, education, and technical assistance to local food producers. Its core mission is to build fundamental knowledge of food safety and support compliance with FSMA regulations.

This project website is supported by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award 1U01FD006921-01 totaling $1,000,000 with 100 percent funded by FDA/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by FDA/HHS, or the U.S. Government.

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