The Western Growers organization will spearhead a California marketing agreement and marketing order designed to create mandatory good agriculture practices that will enhance safety procedures for spinach and other leafy green foods.

Western Growers will also initiate a federal marketing order to develop comprehensive and mandatory national spinach and leafy green food safety standards. The goal is enhanced and mandatory food safety processes on each step of growing, packing, processing, and shipping of spinach and leafy greens. State and federal government regulatory agencies would oversee enforcement and process verification.

“Our industry is at a crossroads,” said Western Growers President and Chief Executive Officer Tom Nassif. “The purpose of these efforts is to ensure that our food supply is the safest in the world. Our plans for a California marketing agreement for processors and shippers, plus a marketing order for growers will put us in a position where it will be mandatory and enforceable.”

Nassif predicted state level passage yet slow movement at the federal level.

“I think we’ll achieve success at the state level. At the federal level it takes more time and will be more difficult to get a marketing order covering all of the leafy green producing states in the nation,” Nassif said. “We’re asking retailers and food service to insist on the same high quality standards from the rest of the nation and from foreign imports.”

According to a Western Growers’ statement, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service administers federal marketing orders, while the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s Market Enforcement Branch administers state marketing agreements and orders. Marketing orders and marketing agreements are state or federal regulatory programs that can include mandatory inspections, process verification, food safety research, methods of growing, harvesting and handling and, ultimately, sanctions for non-compliance.

“In this case, the state and federal marketing orders will be used to put teeth into food safety practices and guidelines by making them mandatory and by imposing sanctions on those who do not follow the guidelines,” said Nassif. “Businesses are not accustomed to proposing that they be subjected to mandated government guidelines. However, our members’ ultimate goal is to protect the health and safety of the families who consume our products.”

Western Growers is seeking support of its proposal by the Produce Marketing Association, the United Fresh Produce Association, the Grower Shipper Association of Central California and the California Farm Bureau Federation.

Western Growers’ 2,601 members grow, pack and ship 90 percent of the fresh fruits, nuts, and vegetables grown in California, and 75 percent of those commodities in Arizona. This represents about half of the nation’s fresh produce.

e-mail: cblake@farmpress.com