Western Growers, whose membership produces half the nation’s fresh produce, says it will take the initiative to create a California marketing agreement and a marketing order that establishes mandatory Good Agriculture Practices (GAP) that strengthen spinach and leafy green food safety procedures.

WG president Tom Nassif announced the initiative with little details in the wake of E. coli outbreaks in spinach and a recall of lettuce packs after E. coli was found in irrigation water ponds.

According to Western Growers, the trade association of western fresh fruit, nut and fresh produce growers and packers would also include the initiation of a federal marketing order to develop comprehensive and mandatory national spinach and leafy green food safety standards.

The effect of these actions, when completed, will be to impose enhanced and mandatory food safety processes on all aspects of growing, packing, processing and shipping of spinach and leafy greens. Enforcement and process verification will be overseen by state and federal government regulatory agencies, according to Nassif.

“Our industry is at a crossroads,” commented Nassif. “The consuming public, lawmakers, state and federal government agencies as well as our members want greater assurances that the healthy, fresh produce we provide is safe. The actions approved by our board of directors will help ensure that improved food safety standards are universally understood and adhered to.”

Federal marketing orders are administered by the Agricultural Marketing Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. State marketing agreements and orders are administered by the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s Market Enforcement Branch. 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 order 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 those guidelines,” said Nassif. “This is a very specific and substantial action by Western Growers. 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.”

In addition, Western Growers has formed a close working relationship with other association partners: the Produce Marketing Association, United Fresh Produce Association and Grower Shipper Association of Central California.

“We were very pleased by the reactions of our association partners to our proposed plan to develop mandatory good agricultural practices and to initiate mandatory marketing orders at the state and federal levels. We have encouraged them to ask their respective boards to support out actions, “said Nassif