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National leafy greens proposal moves forward

Issue Date: May 4, 2011
By Kate Campbell

Final details of a proposed national food safety program for leafy green vegetables are being worked out, with final public comments due by July 28. Proposed in 2009 by a variety of agricultural organizations including the California Farm Bureau Federation, the National Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement is modeled after the approach developed in California four years ago.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture conducted seven public hearings across the country and reported it had received hundreds of letters and comments on the initial proposal. The USDA Agricultural Marketing Service said it has adjusted the proposed marketing agreement based on that feedback. It now proposes adoption of the agreement, which is designed to ensure food safety by minimizing the presence of potentially dangerous microbes on leafy green vegetables, and which will apply to operations of all sizes, locations and agricultural practices that sell to a participating handler.

A final agreement is expected to be adopted by the end of the year.

"This proposed agreement and governance structure provides an opportunity for farmers, handlers and retailers of all sizes to work together to develop a practical program," said Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan. "We are striving to create a voluntary program so that all types of farmers and handlers can more effectively comply with quality and food safety requirements."

In a joint statement, the fresh produce associations that proposed the new national food safety program said, "The safety of the food supply is our No. 1 priority and the agreement will help ensure the safety of our nation's leafy greens. It is encouraging to know that USDA has come to this point in a long and thorough process and that the agreement will have clear rules in place for enhancing the safety of leafy greens for consumers."

The associations said they encourage others to provide constructive comments to USDA on the national leafy greens proposal during the next 90 days.

In addition to Farm Bureau, associations that initially called for a national and voluntary food safety program for leafy greens included the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California, the Produce Marketing Association, the Texas Vegetable Association, the United Fresh Produce Association and Western Growers.

In the national proposal, USDA recommends there be eight regional zones represented on a national governing board, to reflect the different climates, production practices and markets for leafy green produce. Representatives from these zones would be appointed by the secretary of agriculture.

The board would include 26 representatives: 12 handlers, 10 farmers (at least two of them small farmers), one importer, one retailer, one food service representative and one member of the public.

The secretary would also appoint a technical review committee to assist the board in developing technical requirements—commonly referred to as good agricultural practices, good handling practices and good manufacturing practices. The technical review committee members would include one producer, one handler and one food safety expert from each of the eight zones. At least one of the eight producers must be a small farmer and one must be a certified organic farmer.

In addition to these 24 members, the secretary would appoint a representative from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and might also appoint members from other USDA agencies, such as the National Organic Program, as well as representatives from other federal agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration.

All technical requirements developed by the committee for the board's review would be made available for public comment, be consistent with FDA regulatory requirements and be approved by the USDA secretary prior to implementation.

"California farmers and leafy greens processors are in the unique position of having worked with our state's program for several years," said Noelle Cremers, California Farm Bureau natural resources and commodities director. "The insights they can offer as to what works best to help ensure quality and food safety will be particularly valuable as the proposal for a national program is being finalized."

"The California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement has been in place for nearly four years and is a national success story," said California Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross. "We know from experience that this kind of program can work."

USDA Agricultural Marketing Service Administrator Rayne Pegg said the agency will seek "extensive public participation with input from farmers and handlers, as well as the public, to develop a comprehensive, voluntary agreement that will meet the needs of everyone."

Pegg stressed that the agreement remains "a proposal at this point" and said the AMS encourages comments during the coming 90 days.

"We will analyze the comments and decide how or whether to proceed with an agreement," she said.

More information on the USDA leafy greens proposal and how to comment is on the AMS website at www.ams.usda.gov.

(Kate Campbell is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at kcampbell@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.




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