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California Leafy Greens Audit Means Some Will Pass And Some Must Fail

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, July 24, 2007

As promised, Monday, July 23, 2007, marked the first day of mandatory compliance audits for the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement. Lots of articles, such as this one from San Diego featuring Jack Vessey — who we heard from here — also show a lot of confusion about the agreement. Read this quote from the article:

Because 98 percent to 99 percent of California growers and processors of leafy greens have signed the agreement, nearly all leafy greens in the U.S. food-distribution chain will be covered. Northern and Central California growers supply 90 percent of the leafy greens that Americans eat during the summer and fall, and Imperial County and western Arizona supply 90 percent of those products consumed in the winter and spring.

Well, perhaps, if you, bizarrely, define California to include western Arizona! Define nearly all as 90% and exclude product not in the “U.S. food distribution chain” because it is sold directly to consumers, sold via farmer’s markets, sold directly to restaurants, etc.

The launch of the mandatory compliance audits is a milestone but it also indicates what a Catch-22 the industry is in.

If these standards and audits are truly rigorous, we have to assume that some percentage of handlers won’t be in conformance. We can hope for them to quickly rectify the problems but, still, if a standard is rigorous, it virtually means that a lot of people won’t be able to meet the standard.

That is what bell curve distributions are all about — everyone can’t get an A+.

If everyone passes, it will raise questions about the rigor of the standards.

Yet, if everyone doesn’t pass, the failing producers do not have their product condemned; they just aren’t listed as conforming to the agreement. That product, in all likelihood, will find its way to market, if not through a major retailer, then through wholesale markets.

So while we need handlers to fail to prove the rigor of the standards, if any significant number fails, the usefulness of the agreement to reassure consumers and regulators is lessened because less product is covered by the agreement.

Which points out a major difference between an FDA standard, such as what PMA and United have called for, and the California Marketing Agreement: If a company doesn’t meet FDA standards, it can’t sell the product and can be forced to recall product produced in violation of FDA standards.

If a company doesn’t conform to the California Marketing Agreement, the company gets punished, but the product gets sold and eaten.

This seems a powerful argument for why we can’t stop our efforts with the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement.

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