Under a new Louisiana law, all strawberries sold in the state — including those grown in Florida and California — must have a “farm of origin” label on consumer packages.

House Bill 430, signed by Gov. Bobby Jindal on May 26, applies only to strawberries but could be applied to other commodities such as citrus, tomatoes and seafood, said Louisiana Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain.

While technically a law, the specific wording and scope of what’s covered hasn’t been finalized. Strain said a commission within the Baton Rouge-based Louisiana Department of Agriculture & Forestry and the Louisiana Strawberry Marketing Board would develop the rules with legislative oversight, possibly by September.

“This came from the strawberry farmers,” he said. “With this buy fresh, buy local push, when our consumers buy berries, we want them to have the option of buying fresh and local Louisiana berries. You will see this in the future on all produce and will see this moving into national policy.”

Strain said labels listing the name and address of the farms producing the berries could be incorporated into shippers’ labels. He said he didn’t think the labeling change would be difficult for out-of-state shippers and said the state would provide a mechanism or template for such labeling.

Potential headaches

Ted Campbell, executive director of the Florida Strawberry Growers Association, Dover, said state-specific labeling requirements would cause packinghouse headaches.

“Any differentiation by state in labeling requirements is very challenging at the packer level for any commodity,” said Campbell, who reserved further comment until reading more about the law.

Carolyn O’Donnell, communications director with the California Strawberry Commission, Watsonville, said shippers there also want to know more about the law.

“We are waiting to find out what they’re expecting to do in terms of labeling and how that may be different from the way California labels its berries now,” she said. “We do support traceback to the container.”

While many states promote agricultural products through the specialty crop block grant programs, Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for the United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C., said he hasn’t seen other states institute laws similar to Louisiana’s.

“Our goal is to move consumption of all fresh produce,” Guenther said. “We want to make sure we are not trying to divide the industry by commodity, state or region. While we think it’s important for states to promote and be proud of their products, to start mandating regulations on commodities entering their states in terms of commerce, I’m not sure if that would move the ball forward on increasing overall consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture doesn’t report Louisiana’s strawberry acreage, but the state’s agriculture department said 89 growers in 2009 produced 870,475 flats from 397 acres with a $17.4 million value. According to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, a preliminary value of California’s 2009 fresh strawberry crop is $1.58 billion; Florida’s is $313.6 million.

Production, centered in the eastern area of the state north of New Orleans near Ponchatoula, La., generally begins in December and peaks in March with smaller volumes running through May.

Louisiana shoppers consume a majority of production, Strain said.

Marketing board member Kevin Liuzza, owner of Kevin Liuzza Farms LLC, Independence, La., said such labels should be on all foods.

“Our main concern here is for the consumers,” he said. “Consumers should want to know what farm their berries came from. Something sounds fishy if your farmers don’t want to have their names on their strawberry boxes.”

Mark Murai, president of the California Strawberry Commission, said the commission supports traceback to the farm level.

“The commission expects that the Louisiana regulations will be in harmony with ongoing national labeling and traceability efforts,” Murai said. “The commission continues to work with national and regional trade and produce associations to harmonize labeling requirements for all fresh produce.”

Louisiana passes strawberry label law