When the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement formed in 2007, its board sought a leader who could master the intricacies of food safety certification without getting lost in them. The big picture grew bigger than ever after an E. coli outbreak in spinach.

Fortunately, they hired Scott Horsfall as chief executive officer.

“We were looking for a unique set of skills,” said Jamie Strachan, current LGMA board chairman and president of Salinas, Calif.-based Growers Express and Green Giant Fresh.

“It takes a detail-oriented person to manage our rigorous certification process and compliance practices.

“But Scott also has the public relations and marketing background to manage (a) crisis and push the program forward so the public understands we’re doing a lot on the farm to make products safer.”

Three years and 2,000 food safety audits later, LGMA — overseen by government but funded by industry — has made believers of many.

“We’ve already seen Arizona adopt a marketing agreement based on ours,” Horsfall said.

“We think the model makes sense on a national basis. The food safety bill as envisioned would give FDA a mandate, but it won’t have the resources to inspect every farm. A national LGMA could work closely with the FDA and USDA to do that.”

Strachan said Horsfall’s work sets the bar high.

“He’s building support among buyers and retailers for LGMA as the only audit they require,” Strachan said.

“He’s built awareness of downstream responsibility for food safety among distributors, repackers, processors — even consumers. And he’s built federal and regulatory awareness of the program. He’s really led the charge and been the center of our success.”

In hiring Horsfall, LGMA valued as much as anything his experience with the California Department of Food and Agriculture. He gained that experience as chief executive officer of the Buy California Marketing Agreement — running California Grown, a successful ad campaign — and in leadership roles at commodity boards.

Horsfall, 53, is a former president of the California Kiwifruit Commission, and spent the first 14 years of his career with the California Table Grape Commission, where he became vice president for international marketing.

Grape exports rose sixfold during his tenure. Kevin Moffitt, president of Milwaukie, Ore.-based Pear Bureau Northwest, used to travel the world with Horsfall, opening markets for their commodities in regions like Latin America.

“Scott can take pretty complex concepts, grasp and distill them quickly and communicate those to people at all different levels,” Moffitt said. “That’s served him well with legislators on Capitol Hill, with corporations or family-owned businesses.”

Horsfall’s eye for detail is matched by his ear — when a piano is nearby.

“Scott definitely brings an intelligent professionalism, but he’s fun,” Moffitt said.

“He plays the piano very well. He’s spontaneously commandeered pianos in hotels during conventions and started playing tunes that eventually attracted attendees. Pretty soon everyone’s singing around the piano with Scott.”

“The industry has made great strides since LGMA has been around,” Horsfall said.

“They’re united and we’ve kept them all at the table.”