Under a new Louisiana law, all strawberries sold in the state â including those grown in Florida and California â must have a âfarm of originâ 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 whatâs covered hasnât 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.
âThis came from the strawberry farmers,â he said. âWith 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.â
Strain said labels listing the name and address of the farms producing the berries could be incorporated into shippersâ labels. He said he didnât 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.
Ted Campbell, executive director of the Florida Strawberry Growers Association, Dover, said state-specific labeling requirements would cause packinghouse headaches.
âAny differentiation by state in labeling requirements is very challenging at the packer level for any commodity,â said Campbell, who reserved further comment until reading more about the law.
Carolyn OâDonnell, communications director with the California Strawberry Commission, Watsonville, said shippers there also want to know more about the law.
âWe are waiting to find out what theyâre expecting to do in terms of labeling and how that may be different from the way California labels its berries now,â she said. âWe do support traceback to the container.â
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 hasnât seen other states institute laws similar to Louisianaâs.
âOur goal is to move consumption of all fresh produce,â Guenther said. âWe want to make sure we are not trying to divide the industry by commodity, state or region. While we think itâs important for states to promote and be proud of their products, to start mandating regulations on commodities entering their states in terms of commerce, Iâm not sure if that would move the ball forward on increasing overall consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables.â
The U.S. Department of Agriculture doesnât report Louisianaâs strawberry acreage, but the stateâs agriculture department said 89 growers in 2009 produced 870,475 flats from 397 acres with a $17.4 million value. According to the USDAâs National Agricultural Statistics Service, a preliminary value of Californiaâs 2009 fresh strawberry crop is $1.58 billion; Floridaâs 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.
âOur main concern here is for the consumers,â he said. âConsumers should want to know what farm their berries came from. Something sounds fishy if your farmers donât want to have their names on their strawberry boxes.â
Mark Murai, president of the California Strawberry Commission, said the commission supports traceback to the farm level.
âThe commission expects that the Louisiana regulations will be in harmony with ongoing national labeling and traceability efforts,â Murai said. âThe commission continues to work with national and regional trade and produce associations to harmonize labeling requirements for all fresh produce.â