(Oct. 22) As the U.S. Department of Agriculture seeks input from the leafy greens industry on national food safety standards that could tell growers everything from how to test irrigation water to how to set up buffer areas around their fields, one area of concern is already apparent.

There is general concern in the produce industry that what happens in one growing region — such as a pathogen outbreak or a recall — has an effect on the entire industry, said Lloyd Day, administrator for the USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service, which oversees federal marketing orders and promotions programs. He said if there is a consensus on the need of a nationwide agreement, USDA would move to develop a program in cooperation with the industry.

FORGED UNDER PRESSURE

Ray Prewett, executive vice president of Texas Citrus Mutual and the Texas Vegetable Association, said there is a lot of merit in a national program, but he said areas outside of California are concerned about metrics that were put together under pressure.

“I know the folks in California did the best job they could, but we’d have concerns if all those metrics are appropriate to our area,” he said. “We’re gearing up to examine some of our risk areas with issue to leafy greens in Texas.”

Mike Stuart, president of the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, Maitland, said in order to maintain consistency the Florida industry would look at the USDA’s proposal closely.

A one-size-fits-all approach will not work, he said.

TRAIPSING IN FIELDS ABROAD?

John McClung, president of the Texas Produce Association, Mission, said he believes there is a need for a national leafy green marketing agreement, but he has concerns about enforcement and how imports would be affected.

“Do you think you’re actually going to traipse the fields in Mexico or Guatemala, South Africa or the dozens of other places that send us produce?” McClung said. “I don’t think those countries are going to be very agreeable to that.”

If a national marketing agreement should evolve, a number of U.S. leafy green producers with growing operations in Mexico may face buyer scrutiny in getting their products across the border because they would not be covered in a voluntary program.