The National Milk Producers Federation is asking the federal Food and Drug Administration to exempt dairy farms from new food safety regulations based on fear of terrorism.
"Efforts to impose added regulations on dairy farms under the new Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) are not warranted because milk leaving farms for further processing is not a significant public health risk from intentional adulteration," NMPF said in comments to the FDA.
National Milk made its official comments to the FDA during the comment period on the draft "intentional adulteration" rule that is part of the FSMA package. It is the sixth rule under the food safety overhaul and would require certain food facilities to take measure to head off acts of food terrorism.
Dairy milk houses and dairy processing facilities are among those targeted for new regulations.
One section of the broad food safety reform program could end up affecting the milk houses on U.S. dairy farms. Some proposals would have milk houses locked in an effort to prevent terrorists from intentionally adulterating milk.
State food safety officials have registered comments to the FDA that locking milk houses would be a problem since inspectors need to have access to that area to do their job.
In its comments, NMPF argues that milk, which is destined for pasteurization and processing is not at all a high-risk food and should be exempt from the FSMA regulations.
Beth Briczinski, NMPF's vice president of dairy foods and nutrition said that fluid milk for pasteurization moves among various regions of the country and is in constant flux to meet specific processing demands.
Because it can be difficult to predict the exact processing facility and type of product that any given farm's milk will go into, NMPF maintains that "activities on dairy farms should not be addressed through this rule."
The organization of dairy cooperatives further commented that dairy farmers already implement a number of general security strategies to protect their investment in property, equipment, animals and their milk supply, which further reduces any risk from on-farm milk destined for pasteurization.
Because the milk produced on U.S. dairy farms often is used as an ingredient and goes through pasteurization and other treatments, the impact of any intentional adulteration is lessens, the organization said in its comments.
They also commented that farmers take many steps to make sure their cattle are protected from certain diseases and that limits the potential for further problems.
"We would encourage FDA to adopt an approach whereby dairy farms would have a food defense plan (a list of risk-based best management practices) that is implemented only when a credible threat of intentional adulteration against the milk supply is identified," Briczinski wrote.
In her comments, she added that raw milk destined for direct consumption by consumers, and which will not be pasteurized, should not be included in any FSMA exemption.
National Milk further cautioned that if FDA were to require farms to comply with specific aspects of food defense regulations, those requirements should be developed with input from federal and state stakeholders and the dairy industry, through the National Conference on Interstate Milk Shipments (NCIMS).
The NCIMS is the group that advises the FDA on milk safety and inspection issues.
Though they are sometimes at odds over other issues, NMPF was in agreement with the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) on the rule that would affect dairy processing plants with regard to intentional adulteration. The extensive comments from both groups expressed concerns with the proposed rule and asked FDA to "fundamentally reconsider its proposed approach."
Their comments expressed concern with the direction of FDA's proposal, and asked the agency to "fundamentally reconsider its proposed approach." Like dairy farms, dairy processing facilities have worked with FDA to take an active approach in applying food defense concepts to their manufacturing operations, the two groups said.
They proposed that FDA only require basic food defense plans consisting of cost-effective mitigation strategies, allowing facilities to then identify reserved focused mitigation strategies that can be quickly implemented in response to heightened concerns or credible threats, if that becomes necessary.
Their joint comments emphasized that each processing facility and dairy farm is unique. If FDA were to require food defense plans, the dairy industry must have the flexibility to address intentional adulteration in ways that are custom-tailored with respect to their individual attributes, rather than prescribing "one-size-fits-all" specific criteria they said.
As written the rule would require registered domestic and foreign food facilities to address hazards that might be intentionally introduced.
The groups asked the FDA to publish a re-proposal that gives stakeholders in the industry a chance to comment on changes the agency plans to make in a final rule.
One of the problems they have with the current proposal is that recommended approach that would require every registered facility to conduct a vulnerability assessment and then implement mitigation strategies for any of the vulnerabilities they discovered.
"The dairy industry already has robust mitigation strategies in place," said Clay Detlefsen, IDFA's vice president of regulatory affairs. "We do not believe there is a high risk and are asking FDA to address the lower risk in guidance."
The two groups also said that "food defense" and "food safety" should be regulated differently and that the rule should encourage thoughtful analysis of threats.
The said they want the agency to require only basic food defense plans that will allow plants to "identify reserved focused mitigation strategies that can be utilized in periods of heightened concern should they materialize in the future."
The groups also asked for FDA to offer a re-proposal version of the intentional adulteration rule in light of the major changes that have been proposed during the comment period.
The deadline for issuing the final rule is May 31, 2016, based on a ruling in a lawsuit.