(Feb. 26) Members of the California Leafy Green Products Handler Marketing Agreement advisory board elected Joe Pezzini, vice president of operations for Ocean Mist Farms, Castroville, as chairman and Eric Schwartz, president of Dole Fresh Vegetables, Salinas, as vice chairman.

The board’s first meeting was Feb. 23 in Woodland, Calif., and high on the agenda of future meetings is the response to last year’s E. coli outbreaks linked to spinach. Sales of spinach still lag, five months after the September outbreak.

“A lot of eyes are on us and we’ve got the right people in the right places, and I think Joe is going to be a good chairman,” said Tom Nunes Jr., president of The Nunes Co. Inc., Salinas. “Joe knows how to keep a meeting moving and focused on the task.”

Pezzini said the executive committee plans to meet March 5 in Woodland.

“This really is starting from scratch,” he said. “Let’s get this up and running as quickly as possible, let’s make the right decisions.”

He said there is a sense of urgency to move forward as quickly as possible. Members of the agreement can use a seal noting they’re complying with good agricultural practices, and Pezzini said one of the board’s first goals is to determine how to govern compliance.

He said the task ahead is daunting.

“But it’s necessary and I accept the challenge,” he said. “Initially, it’s going to take a lot of time, and there will be a lot of meetings in March.”

Schwartz said one area of concern is that Fresh Express, the largest salad shipper in Salinas Valley, has declined to sign the marketing agreement.

“We’re all kind of scratching our heads wondering why not,” he said. “Our fear is for this board to work and have credibility the biggest shipper needs to be in there because as big as Dole is we’re certainly not the biggest.”

In a Feb. 13 statement, Fresh Express president Tanios Viviani said he believes any food safety program should be on a national scale rather than regional and that the marketing agreement may create consumer expectations too high to meet.