FDA working to assist farmers hit by hurricanes

Wisconsin State Farmer
An orange sits on a tree affected by Hurricane Irma on Wednesday in Lake Wales, Fla. The hurricane dealt Florida’s iconic orange crop a devastating blow, destroying nearly all of some growers’ groves in southwest Florida and seriously damaging groves in Central Florida.

SILVER SPRING, MD - With two category 4 storms hitting the U.S. back-to-back, the effects of Hurricane Harvey and Irma have been devastating. 

To assist those affected by these storms, including American farmers who have suffered crop losses, the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a large team working to provide assistance.

"We recognize that these hurricanes have presented unique challenges for farmers, and the FDA is committed to work with growers, as well as with our federal and state partners, to ensure that the food we serve our families is safe and that consumers have confidence in the products they consume," said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D. 

A small herd of cows walk along high ground in the Hamshire area in Texas, Monday, Sept. 4, 2017. Several Chinook helicopters flown by the Michigan Army National Guard dropped bales of hay in the area to feed livestock stranded by Harvey floodwaters.

In determining how crops have been impacted by the hurricanes, one crop which has had a high number of inquiries is rice, due the large rice crop in Texas. 

"I want to make it clear that the FDA has not issued a ban on rice or any other food crops. Rice grown in normal conditions and rice that has not been exposed to contaminated floodwaters from the recent hurricanes may enter commerce," Gottlieb said. "Also, rice and other crops that were harvested and stored safely before storms hit should not be considered impacted by these events." 

Documents and resources on the FDA website will provide up-to-date, science-based information on which crops can enter commerce without creating risks to consumers or animals who may be fed crops as part of animal feed. Other resources will be revised and issued by the agency as part of the FDA's ongoing effort to provide more timely advice on the situation. 

"However, I recognize that crops have been and will continue to be impacted in a variety of ways by these storms. There have been substantial crop losses from both storms," Gottlieb added. "Crops may be submerged in flood water, exposed to contaminants, or susceptible to mold. Some of the major concerns for crop safety are heavy metals, chemical, bacterial, and mold contamination. In many cases, it is challenging to determine what contaminants are in crops that were submerged by floodwaters. Both human and animal food must meet well-established safety requirements. FDA has experts that are working closely with state regulators and directly with producers to address questions and concerns."

The FDA has experts in affected regions who can help provide direct assistance. Additionally, state departments of agriculture may have specific requirements regarding cleaning, processing, testing, using or selling crops for human or animal food. 

On a recent tour of farms and packing facilities in Georgia, Gottlieb was reminded how farms are different than other entities regulated by the FDA.

"Farms are not just a place of business. Many are homes. Most farms have been in families for generations. As a result, the impact of floods on farms and farmers is especially concerning to me," said Gottlieb. "It has hit many farmers hard, destroying their homes and their livelihoods. We are leaning forward in our efforts to make sure that we're providing timely assistance, and that our advice on crop safety reflects our most up-to-date, science based analysis."

More information on evaluating safety of food and animal food crops exposed to flood waters can be found at http://tinyurl.com/ycgem2mn

 A Q&A on crops harvested from flooded fields intended for animal food can be found at http://tinyurl.com/y92sad5c.