National Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement one step closer to reality

by Keith Nunes
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WASHINGTON — The Agricultural Marketing Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture is requesting comments regarding the establishment of the National Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement. The request for comments is scheduled to be published in the April 29 Federal Register
The proposed agreement would authorize the development and implementation of production and handling regulations (audit metrics) to reflect Food and Drug Administration Good Agricultural Practices and Good Manufacturing Practices, and U.S.D.A. Good Handling Practices. The program would be voluntary, and cover both United States and imported leafy green vegetables. Signatory handlers would agree to only handle leafy green vegetables that meet the requirements of the program.

The program would be financed primarily by assessments collected from participants in the program. A board, whose members would be appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture, would administer the proposed agreement with U.S.D.A. oversight.

“This proposed agreement and governance structure provides an opportunity for farmers, handlers and retailers of all sizes to work together and develop a practical program,” said Agriculture Deputy 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.”

The impetus for the proposal took place in September 2006 when the F.D.A. issued a public alert regarding a multi-state E. coli outbreak linked to fresh spinach grown in California’s Salinas Valley. The subsequent recall was the largest ever for fresh leafy green vegetables. Investigations by the F.D.A. and the California Department of Health Services concluded that the E. coli contamination might have been attributed to environmental factors in the production area.
In response to the E. coli outbreak, members of the California leafy green vegetable industry created a state marketing agreement for handlers of leafy green vegetables. The California Leafy Green Products Handler Marketing Agreement became effective in February 2007 and established protocols for the safe handling of fresh produce. In October 2007, a similar program was implemented in Arizona.

Approximately 75% of the leafy green vegetables produced and handled in Arizona were being regulated under that state’s program at the time of the hearing. While both the California and Arizona programs are voluntary, the requirements of the state marketing agreements are mandatory for all signatories within each respective state.

In October 2007, the A.M.S. published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the Federal Register in response to industry interest in the creation of a national program to address the handling of leafy green vegetables nationwide. The A.N.P.R. explored the concept of establishing a regulatory program to reduce microbial contamination and improve product quality of leafy green vegetables available in the United States’ produce market.

Comments regarding the establishment of the National Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement may be sent to the U.S.D.A. and are due by July 28, 2011. Written comments may be submitted to the Hearing Clerk, United States Department of Agriculture, 1400 Independence Ave. SW, Room 1031-S, Washington, D.C. 20250-9200. Comments submitted electronically may be sent to
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