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Call & Response: Lawmakers act on farmers' concerns about leafy greens proposal
Buckeye Farm News
During the last Ohio Farm Bureau Federation (OFBF) county presidents trip to Washington D.C., farmers sat down with members of Congress and explained why a federal proposal on leafy greens would not work in Ohio. Not only did the lawmakers listen but they took action.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has proposed a National Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement that would create production and handling regulations mainly for leafy greens but may also impact other fresh vegetables. The agreement is voluntary and is in reaction to recent food safety outbreaks. Those who participate would be subject to federal inspections and be allowed to use a food safety seal for their produce.
OFBF leaders told lawmakers that the USDA proposal could lead to aone-size-fits-all approach and doesn’t adequately address regional farm production practice flexibility, cost to growers and Midwestern wildlife and weather challenges.
“In response to Ohio farmers’ concerns, Representative John Boccieri and Representative Jean Schmidt took the lead in sending an Ohio congressional delegation letter to the secretary of agriculture expressing their concerns about the leafy greens agreement,” said Adam Sharp, OFBF’s senior director of legislative and regulatory policy.
“Ohio farmers take food safety quite seriously. Unfortunately, the regulatory approach proposed by the Department is raising major operational and cost concerns for our farmers,” according to the letter, which was signed by Reps. Steve Austria, John Boehner, Jim Jordan, Marcy Kaptur, Dennis Kucinich, Steve LaTourette, Bob Latta, Pat Tiberi, Mike Turner, Zack Space, Charlie Wilson, Boccieri and Schmidt.
If the marketing agreement is modeled after one in California, it won’t be a good fit for Ohio, Sharp said. For example, the California agreement has many requirements for managing wildlife in fields, which would be difficult for many growers to comply with in the Midwest.
“We have a growing number of successful small produce auctions that sell generally small allotments for many producers. Under the proposed new rules, Amish growers will struggle and the auctions would go out of business given the complexity of the new rules and associated costs that would drive buyers elsewhere,” Ohio Farm Bureau said in a letter sent late last year to Ohio’s senators. The letter also was signed by the Ohio Produce Growers and Marketing Association, Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association and Farmers Produce Auction.
Under the marketing agreement, Ohio would be at an economic disadvantage because its growers have a much shorter growing season than California and wouldn’t be able to spread the cost of regulation out over an entire year as is done in California, Sharp said.
“Some of the standards adapted in California also won’t work here such as the requirements for water usage and controls for wildlife in the fields,” he said. “We care deeply about food safety but we’re concerned that USDA is trying to deal with food safety concerns through a marketing instrument that, because of the way it is structured, may benefit Western growers and not recognize Midwestern methods of production.”
The leafy greens agreement is separate from comprehensive food safety legislation being considered in the U.S. Senate and a proposal by the Food and Drug Administration on how all fresh fruits and vegetables mshould be produced. The Senate bill is similar to one passed in the House last year that gives FDA the authority to monitor food production and take quicker and stronger action during food safety outbreaks. OFBF was neutral on the House bill and has not taken a formal position on the Senate version, Sharp said.
“There have been many improvements to the bill but we remain concerned that if the federal government misidentifies a food item during a food outbreak and causes major harm to that item’s market, that growers need to be compensated,” he said.