It started back in 2006, when E. coli was found in bags of spinach. You know the rest of the story. And, I’m sure you recall the tomato debacle from last summer. As we all know — too well, in fact — the topic of food safety literally exploded, as industry and lawmakers have worked to come up with ways to reduce the risk of microbial contamination in leafy greens and fresh produce, in general.
It is the leafy greens industry, in its quest to create a national marketing agreement, that has forced me — and for good reason — to once again bring up the subject of food safety.
After the E.coli in spinach incident, those involved in the production of leafy greens out West came up with the California Leafy Green Product Handler Marketing Agreement (LGMA). Now that California growers have established their checks and balances for leafy greens, so to speak, we are now hearing talk of a national marketing agreement for leafy greens (NLGMA). The California agreement would be used as a model for a national plan.
A Nationwide Agreement
In fact, a request for a national marketing agreement was formally made to USDA in June by several large agricultural associations. Like the California agreement, it will involve establishing a best practices and a verification program that could reduce the potential a foodborne outbreak in leafy crops.
According to those supporting NLGMA, the purpose of agreement would be to improve consumer confidence in leafy greens, enhance quality via the application of good agricultural practices, implement a uniform, auditable, science-based food quality enhancement program, and provide USDA with a validation and verification of program compliance — among other things.
An Even Playing Field
But what about the small growers of leafy greens? Will they wind up being penalized as a result? According to Ray Clark, the executive director of the Leafy Greens Council and an ad hoc member of the committee working on the marketing agreement, the proposed agreement will have all growers on a level playing field. “The metrics that large growers use will be the same for the small growers,”he says.
“So far the feedback on the program has been positive,” he continues. “Everybody is interested in food safety and they feel comfortable in designing a program that they can have a hand in.” Clark is referring to the hearings that will be held this fall regarding the proposed agreement.
Nevertheless, there is concern that the agreement may put some small growers at a disadvantage. According to the draft, assessments and
other expenses are involved, and producers who provide leafy greens to participating handlers must undergo audits.
If you are a grower of leafy greens, be sure to read the proposed agreement and take part in the upcoming hearings. To review the draft agreement, go to www.nlgma.org and click on NLGMA draft.
A Move In The Right Direction
What makes a national marketing agreement a good idea is that it incorporates science-based food safety practices. Removing politics, emotions, and a lack of understanding of agriculture from the picture is a major plus to any food safety program.
The overall plan is to put the steps in place to further reduce the incidence of a microbial contamination. And reducing foodborne illnesses is something everyone wants. We just have to be sure that leafy green growers’ voices are heard when designing a marketing agreement that will be in effect nationwide.