(UPDATED 4:45 p.m. June 8) Major produce trade groups are asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture to establish a national leafy greens marketing agreement.

In a June 8 news release from the Western Growers Association, Irvine, Calif., the groups said a national agreement is the best way to “implement best practices and a corresponding verification

National leafy greens agreement proposed
A proposed national leafy greens marketing agreement would be similar to, but not exactly alike, the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement.

program that could reduce the potential for microbial contamination in these crops.”

A national agreement would “improve consumer confidence in leafy greens; enhance the quality of fresh leafy green vegetable products through the application of good agricultural practices; implement a uniform, auditable, science-based food quality enhancement program; provide for USDA validation and verification of program compliance and foster greater collaboration with local, state and federal regulators,” according to the release.

Hank Giclas, vice president of strategic planning, science and technology for Western Growers, said the association, along with the other partner agencies, spent eight months meeting with other industry groups and growers on building support and the details for the proposal.

“We want the leafy greens industry across the country to be engaged in this,” Giclas said. 

Giclas said the partnership asked USDA to conduct public hearings and approve an administrative committee, pending industry backing, to oversee the agreement by early 2010. The national agreement would be structured like one in California, with voluntary sign ups for leafy green handlers who would be bound to set a food safety rules once they are part of the program.

Two primary differences, Giclas said, are the national agreement’s food safety rules would be flexible to accommodate regional differences, including length of season and risk factors, and not a copy of the California or Arizona programs. It would also cover importers of leafy greens and their foreign suppliers. Handlers who sign up would pay a carton-based assessment, Giclas said.

Backers of the national agreement include the United Fresh Produce Association, Produce Marketing Association, Georgia Fresh Vegetable Association, Texas Vegetable Association, Leafy Greens Council, California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, Grower-Shipper Association of Central California, the Western Growers Association and state Farm Bureau affiliates in Arizona, California and Georgia.

These groups had discussions with leafy greens growers, handlers, other trade associations and stakeholders throughout the country in developing a draft leafy greens marketing agreement, according to the news release.

A draft agreement is ready for comment and review from all stakeholders at www.nlgma.org.

In 2006, a California leafy greens marketing agreement was adopted by the industry following the E. coli outbreak linked to bagged spinach. A similar agreement is in place in Arizona.