(May 14) Citing food safety concerns, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is mandating all shipments of California spinach and other leafy greens must be packed or processed by members of a new agreement that outlines specific good agricultural practices.

That program, the California Leafy Green Products Handler Marketing Agreement, encompasses 99% of the growers, packers, shippers and processors of California products. Although the Canadian agency’s new rule, in effect June 1, gives exporters more paperwork, industry members who represent those exporters said the decision validates the marketing agreement.

“It shows that the Canadians recognize it as being meaningful and an improvement of food safety,” said Joe Pezzini, chairman of the marketing agreement board.

“With 99% of the handlers signed up, it’s almost an academic exercise because the agreement will probably convert to a marketing order before the end of the year and it will be mandatory for all handlers,” said Tim Chelling, vice president of communications for Irvine, Calif.-based Western Growers.

Rene Cardinal, acting national manager for the fresh fruits and vegetable program of the Ottawa-based CFIA, said the rule applies only to California leafy greens. The CFIA enacted the rule because less than 100% of the handlers joined the food safety agreement.

“We feel this is the best approach to minimize the risk,” he said. “There is no evidence of contamination outside of California.”

Shippers can provide an electronic copy of a confirmation of sale — which identifies where the product was grown — before arriving at the border or a paper copy when crossing. The confirmation document must include the name of the marketing agreement signatory.

“We want their papers in order by the time they reach the border,” Cardinal said. “If everything is in order, there will be no additional delay other than what it normally takes to proceed through customs.”

California shipments that don’t have the marketing agreement confirmation, however, will be turned away at the border.

“Because this only applies to California, we think there needs to be a national program so other states that are producing the same commodities will be following the same rules,” Pezzini said.