The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is endorsing a proposal to create a National Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (NLGMA).

The proposed agreement would allow farmers, handlers, and retailers to develop a national program - which could also be applicable for imports - to help ensure consistent food safety requirements for leafy greens.

The proposed NLGMA would minimize the potential for microbial contamination, thereby improving customer confidence in leafy green vegetables in the marketplace. The program would be available to operations of all sizes, locations, and agricultural practices.

The NLGMA would authorize the development and implementation of handling regulations to reflect U.S. Food and Drug Administration good agricultural practices and good manufacturing practices, and USDA good handling practices.

California and Arizona already have state-based leafy green marketing agreements.

“We know from experience that this kind of program can work,” said Karen Ross, Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

“The California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement has been in place for nearly four years and is a national success story. The USDA is showing outstanding leadership in suggesting a nationwide approach. Our department looks forward to learning more about the proposal and working closely with the USDA as the process moves ahead.”

In June 2009, agriculture industry organizations proposed a national agreement to the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). USDA released a draft of the governance structure of an agreement for public comment later that year.

USDA’s recommendation is the result of seven public hearings and thousands of comments received on the 2009 draft.
“This is good news for the industry as we strive together to ensure the highest safety of leafy greens,” said Tom Nassif, Western Growers President and Chief Executive Officer.

“It is encouraging to know the USDA is making this recommendation for a national agreement where we can all work together to enhance food safety and consumer confidence in the crops we grow.” Nassif said. “It’s good for growers and handlers and it’s good for the consumer.”

Key differences in the industry’s proposal and the recommendation released by USDA include more grower representatives on the marketing agreement’s board. The new recommendation calls for 10 farmers; two who must represent small farms.

The new recommendation also calls for more geographical zones where leafy green vegetables are grown. It includes eight zones instead of the previously proposedfive.
Based on comments from the public, five growing zones did not really reflect the different climates and different production practices, said Agricultural Marketing Service Administrator Rayne Pegg said in a press call.

“What’s happening in New York isn’t necessarily occurring in Florida,” Pegg said.
Currently, it’s unclear how a national leafy green marketing agreement will affect existing similar state agreements including the California and Arizona programs.

“We would have to work out those details with any state agreements,” Pegg said. “Right now this is just a proposal for a governance structure.”

The next step is a 90-day comment period. Comments are due by July 28, 2011.

All interested parties, including small, organic, and diversified operations, are encouraged to submit comments concerning USDA’s recommended decision to establish the NLGMA.

If the majority of the comments are favorable, the marketing agreement would be adopted by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.

After that, “people would have to adhere to those practices,” Pegg said, adding that the agreement is voluntary.