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Food Safety News

Statement from FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., about crops impacted by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma and FDA’s work with farmers affected by the storms

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This is the first time that two category 4 storms have hit the U.S. back-to-back, and the effects have been devastating. At FDA we have a large team working on providing assistance to those affected by these storms, including American farmers who have suffered crop losses. You’ll be hearing a lot from us in the coming weeks, as we do our part to help people continue to recover from these tragic events. Today, we’re providing more information for farmers and food producers who’ve been impacted by these storms, and in particular, the proper handling of crops that have been exposed to floodwaters.

The FDA has longstanding experience responding to flooding and storms. We play an integral role, working with states, in protecting the safety of the food supply – both human and animal food. 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.

We’ve been in close discussion with farmers, consumer representatives, and state officials regarding concerns about how crops may be impacted by these storms. One crop for which there have been a high number of inquiries is rice. This owes, in particular, to the impact of Hurricane Harvey on 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. Also, rice and other crops that were harvested and stored safely before storms hit should not be considered impacted by these events. The documents we’re issuing today, as well as the direct consultations we’re continuing to have with state officials and with farmers directly, are aimed at providing our most 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.

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. 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 takes seriously our obligation to provide guidance to support farmers and food producers, who are responsible for the safety of their products. Many of these resources are already available on FDA’s website. Others will be revised in the coming days and issued directly by the agency, as part of our ongoing effort to provide more timely advice for our stakeholders.

My staff and I are continuing to work with USDA, state partners, extension services and other stakeholders to help producers as they work to evaluate the safety of their crops. We recognize that in many cases, it is those on the ground who can best advise farmers and help producers evaluate specific concerns and conditions. We have experts in the affected regions who can help provide direct assistance and we are taking additional steps to support recovery efforts. We also understand that state Departments of Agriculture may have specific requirements regarding any attempt to clean, process, test, use or sell crops for human or animal food.

I recently had the opportunity to tour farms and packing facilities in Georgia. That trip reminded me of how farms are different than the other entities we regulate. 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. 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. Our primary mission is the protection and promotion of the public health. We’re committed to making sure food is safe for consumers. But we recognize there are hard questions that must be quickly answered about crops affected by these storms, or else crops that might be safe -- because they were not exposed to contaminated floodwaters -- could age past their point of use. We recognize the tremendous impact this storm had on region’s farming families. We’re working diligently to provide them with timely guidance. My staff and I are committed to doing our part to help farmers get back to work.

More detailed information on the impacts of flooding on human and animal crop uses can be found here:

The FDA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, protects the public health by assuring the safety, effectiveness, and security of human and veterinary drugs, vaccines and other biological products for human use, and medical devices. The agency also is responsible for the safety and security of our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, dietary supplements, products that give off electronic radiation, and for regulating tobacco products.

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