Today a proponent group of agricultural associations representing the leafy greens industry across the U.S. sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) formally requesting the agency begin the process necessary to establish a national marketing agreement for leafy greens (NLGMA). A NLGMA would implement best practices and a corresponding verification program that could reduce the potential for microbial contamination in these crops.
“This marketing agreement is an excellent example of our fresh produce associations working together for the good of the industry,” said Charles Hall, executive director of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association. “The ‘proposed agreement’ guarantees all parties - growers, packers, handlers, manufactures and end-users - are at the table as we move forward to ensure the food safety of leafy greens for the consumer.”
The proponent group comprised of the Produce Marketing Association, United Fresh Produce Association, Western Growers, Texas Fruit and Vegetable Association, Georgia Fresh Vegetable Association, Leafy Greens Council, and Grower-Shipper Association of Central California, has been in discussions with leafy greens growers, handlers, other trade associations and stakeholders throughout the country developing a draft leafy greens marketing agreement. The purpose of the NLGMA is to improve consumer confidence in leafy greens; enhance the quality of fresh leafy green vegetable products through the application of good agricultural practices; implement a uniform, auditable, science-based food quality enhancement program; provide for USDA validation and verification of program compliance and foster greater collaboration with local, state and federal regulators.
“A national marketing agreement would bring some much needed clarity and consistency to the myriad, often conflicting and occasionally confounding food safety requirements now being imposed on leafy greens producers,” said Robert J. Whitaker, Ph.D., Chief Science Officer, Produce Marketing Association. “As a former producer myself, I know how much this focus would be appreciated by the producer community.”
The leafy greens industry took immediate action following the E. coli outbreak associated with spinach in 2006 developing and implementing the California Leafy Greens Producers Marketing Agreement within six months of the outbreak. Ninety-nine percent of all handlers participate in the program. They are assessed a per carton fee which is paid to the state department of agriculture which employs USDA-certified inspectors/auditors. The program is administered by a nonprofit organization under state government oversight. A similar program is also now in place in Arizona. The two agreements account for about 90 percent of the nation’s leafy greens production.
“We are pleased this process is now at a stage that allows stakeholders from across the country to provide comments and recommendations on how best to develop a national leafy greens marketing agreement that can provide a strong science based framework to improve the quality of U.S. and imported leafy green products,” said Robert Guenther, Senior V.P. of Public Policy for United Fresh Produce.
The USDA will review the request and publish a Notice of Hearing in the Federal Register announcing the request, solicit input from stakeholders and schedule public hearing dates.
“This is really the first step in the process for USDA to commence the formal development of a national leafy greens marketing agreement that will enhance the preventative steps on the farm aimed at increasing the safety of leafy green vegetables,” said Western Growers Vice President of Strategic Planning, Science and Technology Hank Giclas. "A national leafy greens marketing agreement marries the talent and expertise of industry, academic and regulatory stakeholders in a union committed to the common goal of high quality safe leafy greens for the consumer."
A draft agreement is ready for comment and review from all stakeholders at http://www.nlgma.org/. This web site will provide additional information to all interested parties including the proponent letter to the USDA.
For more information, you may contact the Western Growers’ Director of Communications Wendy Fink-Weber (949) 885-2256 (firstname.lastname@example.org); United Fresh Produce Vice President of Communications Ray Gilmer(202) 303-3425 (RGilmer@unitedfresh.org); or Produce Marketing Association’s Public Relations Director Julia Stewart (703) 727-8808 (JStewart@pma.com).