FDA Provides Clarification on Rice in Areas Affected by Hurricane Harvey

By Ben Mosley, USA Rice

Farmer Fred Habetz, of Vinton, Louisiana, examines his rice crop near the Louisiana-Texas line. Some of the rice had begun to sprout in this field but fields that were not as mature had not started showing signs of sprouting as a result of rain from Tropical Storm Harvey. Photo by Bruce Schultz/LSU AgCenter

Farmer Fred Habetz, of Vinton, Louisiana, examines his rice crop near the Louisiana-Texas line. Some of the rice had begun to sprout in this field but fields that were not as mature had not started showing signs of sprouting as a result of rain from Tropical Storm Harvey. Photo by Bruce Schultz/LSU AgCenter

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a statement Thursday to provide much-needed guidance to rice farmers whose crops are in areas affected by Hurricane Harvey and Irma. Under the original statement issued by FDA last week, it was unclear whether any crops in those areas would be accepted for use in human or animal food.

This new guidance from FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb clarifies that rice that was not exposed to floodwaters can be sold. "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."

Commissioner Gottlieb went on to say that, "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."

In Texas, the Texas Office of the State Chemist is offering testing services to producers of cereal grains and oil seeds (including tests for mycotoxin, heavy metals, and microbiology) at no cost. If you have questions or would like to submit samples for testing, please contact the Office of the Texas State Chemist at (979) 845-1121.

"The original guidance created a bit of confusion and growers have been waiting for some clarifications," said Lydia Holmes, manager of regulatory affairs for USA Rice. "We've been working tirelessly with USDA, FDA, and the Texas Department of Agriculture, Texas A&M, and other state agencies as well as the Texas Congressional delegation.  Our great working relationships with all of the stakeholders have helped navigate problems and find solutions in the wake of the storm's devastation.  Our members are hurting and there is still a lot that has to be done but I know they really appreciate the work of FDA to provide this guidance for rice farmers affected by Hurricane Harvey."

Full text of the statement can be found here.