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California Food Safety Seal
Bound To Cause Consumer Confusion

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, February 13, 2007

It looks like the California Marketing Agreement, having been certified by the state and with the board soon to be appointed, will actually be affecting the trade and food safety very soon.

Yet for many reasons, any state-based, commodity-specific plan is problematic for an industry that operates on a national and international scale.

We’ve dealt here with the enormous consumer confusion going to be caused by this seal on a product category that is A) grown in Arizona half the year, and B) that often is produced out of California with some locally grown ingredients, as Dole Vegetable’s President Eric Schwartz told us here that Dole’s new plant, built in Bessemer City, North Carolina, is going to draw on more east coast produce such as that from Florida and New Jersey.

What is clear is that even if the California Marketing Agreement substantively raises food safety standards in the growing of spinach, lettuce and other leafy greens and thus is good for the industry, the use of the seal in consumer marketing is bound to cause confusion.

Without rhyme or reason that could possibly be obvious to consumers, the seal will be on some commodities but not others, be obvious during certain times of the year but not others, be available on some blends but not others. It is a train wreck waiting to happen.

So, the answer is that companies such as Dole, which announced its voluntary assent to the Marketing Agreement, should also announce that they will refrain from using the seal in consumer marketing or packaging.

The signatory companies are still bound legally to produce to the standards of the Marketing Agreement. Though they don’t have to use the seal if they don’t want to, they can still promote their participation to the trade and even use the seal on trade packaging as a trade buyer is more sophisticated and is able to understand that this seal only can be used on California produce and only on spinach, lettuce and other leafy greens.

By not promoting the seal to the consumers, the industry will take a step forward on food safety without taking a step backward in rebuilding consumer confidence.

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