Several changes made to National Leafy Greens Agreement after farmers speak up

Farmers: Food safety proposals must fit Ohio

Buckeye Farm News

More than 1½ years ago, Ohio produce growers gathered in Columbus to testify about a proposed National Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement aimed at improving food safety and quality. The voluntary program was not very popular with Ohio farmers.

“Not one person spoke in favor of the agreement,” said Adam Sharp, Ohio Farm Bureau’s senior director of legislative and regulatory policy. “They were all worried about the structure of the program and how it was a one-size-fits-all approach.”

After hearing from hundreds of farmers at seven hearings nationwide and through email, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) made several changes to the proposal, which would create production and handling regulations for leafy greens. Those who participate would be subject to federal inspections and be allowed to use a food safety seal on their products.

Differences in the proposals

When the first proposal was released, many producers said it was not environmentally friendly, too difficult for small producers and required a lot of resources. It also was not very conducive for Ohio because the state’s demographics, land, environmental conditions and market structures are very different than those in the nation’s large production areas.  The proposal was inspired by a similar one implemented years ago in California.

The new version of the program would allow for a more diverse representation of producers, growers and regions. The program would be run by a board made up of representatives from eight regional zones to reflect different climates, production practices and markets handling leafy greens. On the board would be 12 handlers, 10 farmers (at least two of them small farmers), one importer, one retailer, one food service representative and one member of the public.

Technical review

The U.S. secretary of agriculture would appoint a technical review committee to  help the board develop good agricultural, handling and manufacturing practices. The committee would consist of one producer, one handler and one food safety expert from each of the eight zones with at least one small farmer and one certified organic farmer.AMS is asking for “extensive public participation with input from farmers and handlers as well as the public to develop a comprehensive, voluntary agreement that will meet the needs of everyone,” said AMS Administrator Rayne Pegg. AMS is accepting comments about the proposal until July 28.

OFBF plans to file comments after taking a closer look at the proposed rule, which is several pages long. Sharp said he hopes government officials will coordinate the leafy greens proposal with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Food Safety Modernization Act that was passed late last year. The Produce Safety Alliance (PSA) will help provide growers and packagers with fundamental, on-farm food safety knowledge in anticipation of new produce safety rules. FDA and USDA are funding the three-year, $1.15 million public-private initiative, which is based at Cornell University.

Last month PSA set up a website and asked farmers, researchers, state officials, produce industry experts and others to join the Alliance working committee to develop a Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) education curriculum focused on understanding and implementing fresh fruit and vegetable food safety practices. The Alliance will have 10 working committees, each focused on a specific aspect of produce safety, including risk assessment, food safety plan writing and certification. At least four Ohioans have submitted paperwork to be on the working committees, Sharp said. PSA will host a GAPS training and educational materials conference June 29-30 in Orlando, Fla.

“Farm Bureau appreciates that FDA and USDA are forming this safety alliance group to help the coordination and outreach for these new standards. We hope Ohio will have some representation and Ohio Farm Bureau will be actively engaged in the process,” Sharp said.