The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will conduct seven listening sessions over the next six weeks to garner public input on the agency’s proposed National Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (NLGMA).

The main goal of the NLGMA is to utilize scientific-based best-management practices in the production and handling of leafy greens to help ensure safe food products for consumers.

The NLGMA is endorsed by a plethora of proponent agricultural groups including the United Fresh Produce Association, Produce Marketing Association, Western Growers, the California and Arizona Farm Bureaus, California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, and the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California.

The proposed program would cover leafy greens grown in the U.S. and greens imported into the U.S.

The first NLGMA hearing will be held Sept. 22-24, in Monterey, Calif., at the Hyatt Regency Monterey located at 1 Old Golf Course Rd. A second hearing in the West is scheduled for Oct. 14-15, in Yuma, Ariz., at the Yuma Convention Center, 1440 Desert Hills Dr.

Other hearings include: Sept. 30 - Oct. 1, Jacksonville, Fla.; Oct. 6, Columbus, Ohio; Oct. 8, Denver, Colo.; Oct. 20, Syracuse, N.Y.; and Oct. 22, Charlotte, N. C.

A national program could closely mirror the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement developed in 2006 by growers and their associations following an E. coli outbreak traced back to California-grown spinach. The outbreak severely damaged consumer confidence in leafy green safety.

The California agreement governs the production of arugula, butter lettuce, chard, escarole, iceberg lettuce, red leaf lettuce, spinach, baby leaf lettuce, cabbage, endive, green leaf lettuce, kale, romaine lettuce, and spring mix.

An almost identical agreement was launched in Arizona in 2007.

The NLGMA would provide a framework for signatory handlers to voluntarily enroll in the program. Once a member, handlers would be required to buy leafy greens only grown and handled according to accepted best management guidelines.

This is the same framework laid out in the California and Arizona agreements.

The NLGMA would likely include specific guidelines (metrics) based on specific growing areas in the nation.

According to USDA, the NLGMA would be financed by assessments on first handlers of leafy green vegetables for the fresh market. The program would be administered by a 23-member committee. Most members would be growers and handlers nominated by industry and appointed by USDA.

email: cblake@farmpress.com