May 20, 2011
National leafy greens agreement moves forward

A proposed National Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (NLGMA) has advanced another step.

In April, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) announced it was seeking public comment on the creation of a voluntary marketing agreement for the leafy greens industry. The proposed agreement has caused some controversy within the industry. Shortly after USDA made its announcement, the Produce Marketing Association released a statement in support.

“PMA believes the structure set forth by the voluntary marketing agreement will help the industry’s leafy green producers continue to reduce the risk of foodborne illness. The produce industry has already seen the success of the California and Arizona leafy greens marketing agreements,” according to PMA’s statement.

The Ohio Produce Growers & Marketers Association (OPGMA), however, has been opposed to NLGMA since it was first proposed. Even though the agreement is voluntary, if customers were to require Ohio growers to adhere to it, they would be forced to “meet California-style food safety standards.” Those standards would adversely impact Ohio’s small and medium-sized producers, according to OPGMA’s website.

To better reflect concerns raised during public hearings, USDA made adjustments to the initial proposal. The leafy greens agreement was first proposed to USDA in June 2009 by a group of 14 organizations (including PMA) representing a cross-section of producers and handlers from the fresh produce industry. USDA conducted seven public hearings across the country about the proposal, and received hundreds of letters and comments.

For example, to reflect the different climates, production practices and markets handling leafy green produce, USDA proposed that there be eight regional zones. Representatives from those zones, appointed by the secretary of agriculture, would form a board to manage the proposed agreement. The board would include 26 representatives: 12 handlers, 10 farmers (at least two of which must be small farmers), one importer, one retailer, one food service representative and one member of the public, according to USDA.

The secretary of agriculture would also appoint a technical review committee to assist the board in the development of Good Agricultural Practices, Good Handling Practices and Good Manufacturing Practices. The committee members would be 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, according to USDA.

“We are asking for 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,” said AMS Administrator Rayne Pegg at the end of April. “This agreement is a proposal at this point, and we encourage your comments over the next 90 days. We will analyze the comments and decide how or whether to proceed with an agreement.”

Visit the AMS website at www.ams.usda.gov for more information or to comment on the proposed marketing agreement.

By Matt Milkovich

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