Jun 14, 2012National leafy greens agreement still stuck in D.C.
As of press time, the National Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (NLGMA) was still in limbo.
The last official word was in April 2011, when USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) announced it was seeking public comments on the creation of a voluntary marketing agreement for the U.S. leafy greens industry. By the time the comment period closed on July 28, 2011, more than 2,000 comments had been filed, according to the AMS website.
Nearly a year later, nothing has changed. Comments were still being reviewed and analyzed – and no timeline had been set for when that would end, according to AMS.
So, what’s the holdup?
Nobody at AMS had anything to say beyond the statements printed above, and people in the industry could only speculate. For example, the large number of public comments it received, said Karl Kolb, certification program manager for the Ohio Produce Marketing Agreement, might just bog down AMS.
Scott Horsfall, CEO of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (CLGMA), wouldn’t be surprised if the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) had something to do with NLGMA’s delay.
FSMA, “the most sweeping reform of our food safety laws in more than 70 years,” according to FDA, was signed into law in January 2011. As of press time, however, FDA was still working out how parts of the act would be implemented, including the Produce Safety Rule.
Horsfall speculated that NLGMA might, perhaps, be rolled into FSMA in some way – but emphasized that he doesn’t really know what will happen, or when. People in the industry expected FDA’s Produce Safety Rule to be out by now, but not much is getting through Washington, D.C., these days, he said.
“We’re waiting for (the federal government) to act,” he said. “I don’t know if delay bodes well or ill for approval.”
CLGMA – a voluntary food safety agreement for California’s leafy greens growers, created after the spinach E. coli crisis of 2006 – was the model for NLGMA, Kolb said.
CLGMA has been a proponent of NLGMA from the beginning. Growers are dealing with too many food safety programs right now. A single, national program for leafy greens would solve that problem, Horsfall said.
NLGMA has been controversial, however. It was first proposed to USDA in 2009 by more than a dozen produce organizations, but the Ohio Produce Growers & Marketers Association (OPGMA) was an early objector. Ohio growers thought that, even though it would be a voluntary agreement, NLGMA could force Ohio growers to adhere to “California-style food safety standards” – standards that could adversely impact Ohio’s small and medium-sized producers, according to OPGMA.
Growers in other states shared Ohio’s concerns. In response to concerns that were raised in public hearings, USDA made some adjustments to the NLGMA proposal.
For example, to reflect the different climates, production practices and markets handling leafy greens, 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 foodservice representative and one member of the public.
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, according to USDA’s proposal.
By Matt Milkovich, Managing Editor