The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will exempt wine grapes from regulation under the Food Safety Modernization Act’s Produce Safety Rule, announced Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley in a press release.

The Produce Safety Rule establishes minimum standards for the safe growing, harvesting, packing and holding of raw fruits and vegetables grown for human consumption.

The FDA determined that wine grapes — as well as hops, pulse crops such as dry beans and chickpeas, and almonds — were eligible for an exemption because they are “rarely consumed raw,” by FDA standards, meaning that potentially dangerous microorganisms or pathogens are removed before consumption.

The exemptions are considered non-binding recommendations, stated an FDA industry guidance document on the Produce Safety Rule, but the FDA will “exercise enforcement discretion” while they consider making official rule changes “to address the unique circumstances of these commodities.”

In the meantime, the FDA stated that they do not expect entities growing, harvesting, packing or holding any of these commodities to meet any Produce Safety Regulation requirements.

The exemption frees winegrowers from unnecessary and burdensome accounting, said a press release from Sen. Merkley’s office. 

“This is good news for winegrowers and family wineries in Oregon and across the country,” Merkley said. “The old rules were too broad, failing to consider the difference between grape-growing for wine production and raw consumption. Oregon’s wine industry is one of the best in the world, and we need to make sure we’re supporting it with common-sense, effective regulation — not pointless burdens. I’ll continue to be a strong federal partner in making sure that we are supporting winegrowers and all producers with regulations that make sense for their products. Our world-class winegrowers should be free to focus their attention on red grapes, not red tape.”

Merkley used his seat on the Senate Appropriations Committee to include language in the 2019 spending bill to provide wine grape growers relief, successfully including direction to the FDA to exempt winegrowers from the Produce Safety Rule, said a press release.

“Senator Merkley is once again standing with Oregon’s family wineries and grape growers to minimize the effect of unnecessary regulation,” said Jana McKamey of the Oregon Winegrower’s Association. “Thanks to his efforts, Oregon winegrowers and winemakers will no longer need to comply with burdensome reporting and recordkeeping requirements of (the) Produce Safety Rule.”

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