AMS moves to reduce foodborne pathogens in leafy green vegetables

The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) recently recommended that the Secretary of Agriculture approve establishment of the National Leafy Green Marketing Agreement (NLGMA), a voluntary measure intended to regulate the handling of leafy green vegetables across the nation. The program’s intent is to reduce the potential for foodborne pathogens and improve consumer confidence in these products.
The proposal has been in development since 2009, based on feasibility hearings held by the USDA. The agreement would allow member producers to obtain a USDA seal of product approval certifying compliance with food safety requirements.

April 29, 2011, marked the beginning of a 90-day public comment period, during which the Secretary of Agriculture will accept input. At the end of that period, the Secretary will decide whether or not to approve the Agreement.

The proposal is modeled after state-level agreements enacted in California and Arizona in 2007.

The idea of an industry-driven food safety plan has drawn fire from Consumers Union and other groups who say it would give producers too much enforcement power over the standards that govern them. Other objections stem from concerns that it will favor large producers and increase the likelihood of environmental damage from increased chemical use and overutilization of natural resources.

In response to these concerns, the NLGMA recently revised the proposal to provide better board representation for small producers and greater attention to the conservation of natural resources. Specific changes included the expansion of the number of administrative zones from five to eight, which will accommodate variations in production practices, climate and handling practices.

“Board representation was very critical, based on the comments we received,” said AMS Administrator Rayne Pegg. “People really wanted to ensure that there was grower representation, that there was representation of different sized operations so they would have a voice in the discussions.”

The revised NLGMA also proposes creation of a Technical Review Committee, which would be tasked with monitoring the board’s alignment with Good Agricultral Practices (GAPs), FDA food safety requirements, Good Handling Practices (GHPs), and Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs). At least one committee member would also be required to be a small producer, and another a certified organic farmer. The committee would also be required to have one member from the National Resources Conservation Service.

Supporters of the agreement point to the success of California, where food safety spending increased twofold in 2008 and 2009 among producers who signed the agreement.

Download a PDF of the proposed regulation here.