Two years into the California Leafy Green Handlers Marketing Agreement, more than 99% of the state’s volume is covered. With no outbreak since the agreement started, there is talk of pushing for a national model.
Scott Horsfall, chief executive officer, said during a recent presentation to the Farm Foundation Forum in Washington D.C., a national program modeled after California’s emerged as a topic of discussion. Though his organization cannot lobby lawmakers on such a proposal, Horsfall said it is something the group supports.
“We want to see that happen,” Horsfall said. “We don’t lobby ourselves, but we are working as part of coalition to get it passed.”
California’s leafy greens agreement has 120 handlers representing nearly all lettuce, spinach and other leafy greens production in the state.
The agreement’s 2007-08 annual report, the most recent available, said inspectors for the California Department of Food and Agriculture conducted 424 audits, finding 58% of all farms had either no citations or minor infractions that were corrected onsite while inspectors were present. Forty-two percent of farms inspected required corrective action, according to the report.
Horsfall said discussions are continuing between national industry groups and the U.S. Department of Agriculture on developing a national agreement that would require a vote by growers covered under its provisions.
“I think we’ve got pretty broad census among all those groups that a national marketing agreement for leafy greens makes sense and it’s the right thing to do and something we should pursue,” Horsfall said.
Arizona enacted an agreement similar to California’s in 2007, and it could face budget cuts this year as lawmakers grapple with a deficit.
“I think it’s important,” said Danny Canales, vice president of sales and marketing for Misionero Vegetables, Gonzales, about a national agreement.
Misionero is a member of the California agreement, and Canales said it has improved food safety and quality since its inception because it establishes a baseline from which all companies operate. Canales said because all businesses in the industry suffer during an outbreak or recall, the agreement is necessary to ensure everyone follows the highest standards and uses best scientific practices.
“We can’t afford that as an industry,” he said.
Michael Boggiatto, president of Boggiatto Produce Inc., an LGMA member, said the agreement is a sign to retailers and consumers that California growers are serious about providing a safe product.