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The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is seeking comments on the creation of a voluntary National Leafy Green Marketing Agreement (NLGMA) that would assist all segments of the leafy green industry in meeting commercial food quality and safety requirements.
To reflect the different climates, production practices and markets handling leafy green produce, USDA is proposing that there be eight regional zones represented on the board. Representatives from these zones, appointed by the secretary of agriculture, would form a board to manage the 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.
“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.”
A technical review committee would also be appointed to assist the board in the development of technical requirements commonly referred to as good agricultural practices (GAP), good handling practices and good manufacturing practices. The committee members will 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. In addition to these 24 members, the secretary will appoint a representative from the Natural Resources Conservation Service and may also appoint members from other USDA agencies such as the National Organic Program and other federal agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration. All technical requirements developed by the technical review committee for the board would be made available for public comment, be consistent with FDA regulatory requirements and approved by the Secretary prior to implementation.
“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. “This agreement is a proposal at this point and we encourage comments over the next 90 days. We will analyze the comments and decide how or whether to proceed with an agreement.”
The NLGMA was proposed to AMS in June 2009 by a group of 14 different organizations representing a cross-section of producer and handler representatives from the fresh produce industry. USDA conducted seven public hearings across the country and received hundreds of letters and comments on the initial proposal. Adjustments have been made to the agreement and its structure to better reflect concerns that were raised during the hearings.
The Produce Marketing Association (PMA) has been working collaboratively with other regional and national industry organizations, as well as with the USDA, to support this effort and applauds the USDA in this crucial step to ensuring consumer confidence in the supply and safety of leafy greens.
While a detailed review of this proposal is needed, 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 food borne illness. The produce industry has already seen the success of the California and Arizona Leafy Greens Marketing Agreements and PMA supports this similar national effort that provides regional flexibility.
PMA and others proposed the establishment of a national agreement to the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service in June 2009. The USDA then released a draft of the governance structure of an agreement for public comment later that year. This new recommendation is the result of seven public hearings during 2009, in which PMA provided active support, and thousands of comments received on the 2009 draft.
“When it comes to food safety, every company throughout the supply chain must commit to do its part to ensure public health and this proposal crosses geographic boundaries, company size, and type of production method,” said Mike O’Brien, PMA board chairman and VP of produce, Schnuck Markets, Inc. “A national marketing agreement facilitates a level playing field for companies that voluntarily adhere to it and demonstrates their commitment to the industry, food safety and public health.”
This latest proposal, which provides flexibility for a variety of opinions, calls for diverse representation – from geography to farm size – among its leadership, and would also include food safety experts from other agencies within USDA, the Food and Drug Administration and others. In addition, the proposed standards contained within the marketing agreement would coincide with FDA’s ongoing work to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
PMA’s government relations program will continue to strive to ensure that the newly proposed agreement -- as well as any legislative or regulatory programs impacting the produce industry -- represent the best interests of its broad array of members and stakeholders and the needs of consumers as well.
The next step is a 90-day comment period. If the majority of the comments are favorable, the marketing agreement will be adopted by the agriculture department.
For more information on the proposal and/or how to comment on the proposed National Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, visit www.ams.usda.gov.