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MONTEREY, Calif. - At a hearing here Friday, produce growers, shippers, and others began to review a plan for self-imposed food safety regulations for leafy greens, in the first major step in the industry's mandate to rebuild consumer confidence in the wake of recent outbreaks of E. coli tied to produce.
Supporters said the voluntary plan would establish industry-wide accountability, for growers and handlers, who would abide by two separate marketing agreements.
A voluntary marketing agreement is easier to initiate than a mandatory one, according to The Irvine, Calif.-based Western Growers Association (WGA), which is spearheading the effort.
WGA said the industry would be separated into the two groups in order to expedite the process; eventually, the two programs could be combined into one model that could be adopted at the federal level, so leafy green farmers and processors nationwide are following the same standards and have the same seals on their products.
Under the proposal, all farmers who participate and comply with new the industry-designed best practices would receive a certification be endorsed by the state of California, to be put on all the produce grown on their farms.
WGA said a grower-only leafy green marketing agreement is expected to be sent to growers by the end of the month. Once the public hearing has concluded and public input has been provided, received and incorporated into the marketing agreement, it is anticipated that the agreement will be implemented as soon as late January or early February, 2007, WGA said.
"Food safety is everybody issue and the health and welfare of our consumers is of paramount concern and our top priority," said Tom Nassif, WGA president.
If California's Department of Food and Agriculture approves the agreement, the next step would be to create a similar but mandatory growers' marketing agreement, that would take effect once approved by a majority of the state's growers.