"The start of the Marketing Agreement marks the beginning the industry's delivery on a promise to do everything possible to restore the confidence of the nation in our products," said Tom Nassif, President and CEO of Western Growers. "Last year we made a commitment to declare war on food borne illnesses in the fresh produce industry. This is the opening salvo in that war. We have said that food safety is a sacred trust between the people in our industry and the public. We take that responsibility extremely seriously.

This industry-funded initiative is part of our commitment to put our money where our mouth is and take positive action to raise the standards of food safety in this country. We hope the California Marketing Agreement will be a model for the nation and the world."

The Marketing Agreement is a legal document and state regulation by which handlers in California agree to accept product only from farmers who follow specific food safety procedures in the growing of leafy greens. "Our hope and expectation is that retail and food service buyers will agree to buy only from handlers covered by the Agreement," said Nassif. Commodities included in this agreement include all leafy greens such as spinach, lettuce, chard and several

other types of leafy greens. The start of the Marketing Agreement means that handlers can now sign up to become part of this legal regulation. It also allows the California Department of Food and Agriculture to appoint an official Marketing Agreement Board. That board will consist of 13members and will be tasked with implementing the agreement. All elements of the agreement will be exercised under the authority of the State of California. Product which is certified by state authorized inspectors to be grown under the specific food safety Good Agricultural Practices will be designated by an official "mark" or seal.

"The Marketing Agreement is a giant step for our industry," said Nassif. "But this is also just a first step. We intend to follow this action with additional measures and regulations on the state and federal levels to protect the consuming public. Because our products are natural raw products grown outdoors, we know that we can never completely eliminate food borne illnesses. Our goal, however, is to make certain the risk is as minimal as possible. This Marketing Agreement, a state regulation, is a powerful tool to attain that goal."