July 29, 2011
On Thursday, July 28, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition filed its comments on the proposed National Leafy Green Marketing Agreement (NLGMA) with USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). NSAC urged USDA to withdraw the proposal.
The NLGMA attempts to create a new federal marketing agreement to establish food safety rules that would be agreed to by leafy green industry handlers and become mandatory requirements for any growers who sell to those handlers. California and Arizona created state-level Leafy Green Marketing Agreements in response to the 2006 E.coli outbreak linked to fresh cut spinach in California. Nearly all leafy greens produced in California are now subject to the State handler marketing agreement. The West Coast industry that dominates the market now wants to apply its regulations to the ten percent of leafy greens grown in the other 48 states.
According to the regulations.gov website, more than 2100 public comments were received. The vast majority opposed the agreement. NSAC member organizations and their membership submitted what appears to be well over 1,000 comments opposing the agreement.
NSAC told AMS the proposal should be withdrawn for many reasons, including:
1. The proposal is inconsistent with the purposes and goals of the Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act.
2. Congress rejected the food safety marketing agreements in the 2008 Farm Bill and USDA should not provide industry a backdoor means to achieve what Congress rejected.
3. AMS is a marketing agency, not a food safety agency, and its proper role is to advise the Food and Drug Administration on food safety-related marketing issues.
4. Food safety should not be used as a competitive devise in the marketplace as would inevitably occur with a NLGMA.
5. FDA is in the process of developing regulations related to the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) of 2010 and USDA should not be creating a marketing agreement that could conflict with those rules.
6. Having two agencies develop mechanisms to regulate leafy greens is a waste of taxpayers’ money.
7. The NLGMA could unlawfully amend or repeal the protections in the FSMA for small and mid-sized farms, local and direct marketing, and organic farming.
8. USDA negligently did not review or evaluate the proposal with respect to its impact on competition in the marketplace and production concentration.
9. The Agreement would be particularly burdensome to small, mid-sized and diversified farms.
10. The governing body for the proposed agreement would give industry majority control, with farmers given a minority of seats and consumers left out of the picture altogether.
USDA will now go through the process of reviewing the public comments and deciding on their next move. That process will likely take several months. We will keep readers of appraised of any new developments as we learn of them.