Leafy Greens Battle

Not long after the E. coli outbreak in bagged spinach in 2006, California and Arizona each came up with their own leafy greens marketing agreements. The programs in both states are voluntary.

Last summer, a voluntary National Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (NLGMA) was proposed. The proponent group for the agreement includes United Fresh Produce Association, Produce Marketing Association, and Western Growers, among several others. If established, only handlers who sign on to the marketing agreement would be subject to the agreement’s requirements.

In September and October, hearings were held in various locations across the country, allowing the public to offer comments in support or opposition of the agreement.

Feedback From Ohio

Last month, Columbus, OH, hosted one of the hearings. Representatives from United Fresh Produce Association and Western Growers were in attendance.
Tom Stenzel, president and CEO of United, had this to say in his testimony: “It is important to state from the beginning that we support this initiative because it is indeed voluntary for leafy greens handlers. If USDA moves forward with this agreement, it is entirely up to the individual handlers whether they want to participate.” He also said that many leafy greens growers outside of California and Arizona would like the ability to demonstrate their own compliance with a national set of best practices, and they should have the ability to participate if they so choose.

Several Ohio growers in opposition to the agreement also had their voices heard. Many of these growers said they are concerned that if they don’t participate, they will lose business. The overall consensus, they said, is that in the long term, there will be a preference to those involved in the agreement.
In addition, the Ohio growers also said they are worried about the metrics for the NLGMA, indicating that the proposed agreement is very similar to the ones in California and Arizona.

As of now, the metrics have not been established, and these growers said they are worried that once the agreement is adopted, they would have no control over the metrics. The proposed agreement calls for the U.S. to be divided into five zones. Ohio falls into Zone 4, which also includes several other states.

Some Ohio growers at the hearing said that cultural practices in Ohio are very different — just across the state, let alone throughout several states. Jeff Zellers, of K.W. Zellers & Sons in Hartville, OH, said that “adopting regulation without the metrics being agreed upon is a recipe for disaster.”

In his testimony, Stenzel addressed some of these concerns, saying that the agreement would not be California’s system. He said that the proposed agreement would involve input and leadership from all regions. And, he also said that national regulation of leafy greens production is likely to be coming soon from FDA, regardless of what occurs with the marketing agreement.

For more information on the proposed agreement and to read testimony from the hearings, go to www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/moab.

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