A series of public hearings begins later this month to gain input on a proposed national marketing agreement for leafy green vegetables.

The first session will be held in Monterey, Calif., followed by similar hearings in Florida, Ohio, Colorado, Arizona, New York, and North Carolina.

This proposed agreement is patterned after the leafy green agreement now in place in California and Arizona. It was created in response to the 2006 E. coli outbreak linked to spinach.

The idea of a federal pact, which would detail best management practices and a corresponding verification program, has won the endorsement of many of the major vegetable grower/shipper associations nationwide, including the Produce Marketing Association, United Fresh Produce Association, Western Growers, Texas Fruit and Vegetable Association, Georgia Fresh Vegetable Association, Leafy Greens Council, and Grower-Shipper Association of Central California. They have all been involved in developing the national leafy green marketing agreement framework.

“This is really the first step in the process for USDA to commence the formal development of a national leafy greens marketing agreement that will enhance the preventative steps on the farm aimed at increasing the safety of leafy green vegetables,” said Western Growers vice president of strategic planning, science and technology Hank Giclas. “A national leafy greens marketing agreement marries the talent and expertise of industry, academic and regulatory stakeholders in a union committed to the common goal of high quality safe leafy greens for the consumer.”

Just about everyone is on board except our friends at the Cornucopia Institute who do not want “organic and small-scale farmers” to be subject to the same safety rules everyone else has to follow.

The burden of water testing, wildlife habitat management to keep things like feral pigs out of vegetable fields and traceability will be too much for the roadside organic farmer, according to the Wisconsin-based institute.

The Cornucopia crowd says “organic” farmers cannot afford to comply. That is simply not true. Many members of the associations endorsing this move to a national leafy green agreement produce organic products. Just look at the produce shelves in the supermarkets.

As these hearings unfold, you will no doubt see more from our friends at the Cornucopia Institute about how unfair this is to the little guy. I guess it is OK for the little farmer to sell untested produce that makes people sick.

This move to a federal marketing agreement by the major produce associations is a bold one. Although it will be voluntary, it will be widely adopted by growers and packer/shippers. As it was discovered in the California/Arizona leafy green agreements, produce buyers will only buy from growers and shippers who adhere to the best management practices and testing procedures.

It will also be expensive to comply. However, it is necessary to comply for everyone because one incident hurts everyone.