Pundit Interviews

Pundit Letters





Perishable Pundit
P.O. Box 810425
Boca Raton FL 33481

Ph: 561-994-1118
Fax: 561-994-1610


email:
info@PerishablePundit.com

a

Produce Business

Deli Business

American Food & Ag Exporter

Cheese Connoisseur



Western Growers Association
Calls For Mandatory Food Safety Standards

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, October 31, 2006

The industry response to the regulatory and legislative environment following the spinach/E .coli crisis has entered a new phase as the Western Growers Association has called for a California Marketing Agreement and a Marketing Order, which impose mandatory food safety standards for spinach and leafy greens:

WESTERN GROWERS BOARD TAKES ACTION
TO REQUIRE MANDATORY FOOD SAFETY PRACTICES

Western Growers announces plans to initiate state and federal Marketing Orders that include mandatory food safety practices with government enforcement.

IRVINE, CA (October 30, 2006) — Western Growers today announced that it will take action to initiate a California Marketing Agreement and a Marketing Order that establish mandatory Good Agriculture Practices (GAP) that strengthen spinach and leafy green food safety procedures. The action by the Western Growers Board of Directors would also include the initiation of a federal marketing order to develop comprehensive and mandatory national spinach and leafy green food safety standards.

The effect of these actions, when completed, will be to impose enhanced and mandatory food safety processes on all aspects of growing, packing, processing and shipping of spinach and leafy greens. Enforcement and process verification will be overseen by state and federal government regulatory agencies.

“Our industry is at a crossroads,” commented Tom Nassif, President and CEO of Western Growers. “The consuming public, lawmakers, state and federal government agencies as well as our members want greater assurances that the healthy, fresh produce we provide is safe. The actions approved by our board of directors will help ensure that improved food safety standards are universally understood and adhered to.”

Federal marketing orders are administered by the Agricultural Marketing Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. State marketing agreements and orders are administered by the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s Market Enforcement Branch. Marketing orders and marketing agreements are state or federal regulatory programs that can include mandatory inspections, process verification, food safety research, methods of growing, harvesting and handling and, ultimately, sanctions for non-compliance.

“In this case, the state and federal marketing order will be used to put teeth into food safety practices and guidelines by making them mandatory and by imposing sanctions on those who do not follow those guidelines,” said Nassif. “This is a very specific and substantial action by Western Growers. Businesses are not accustomed to proposing that they be subjected to mandated government guidelines. However, our members’ ultimate goal is to protect the health and safety of the families who consume our products.”

In addition, Western Growers has formed a close working relationship with other association partners: the Produce Marketing Association, United Fresh Produce Association, Grower Shipper Association of Central California and the California Farm Bureau Federation. “We were very pleased by the reactions of our association partners to our proposed plan to develop mandatory good agricultural practices and to initiate mandatory marketing orders at the state and federal levels. We have encouraged them to ask their respective boards to support our actions,” said Nassif.

Western Growers is an agriculture trade association whose members grow, pack and ship 90 percent of the fresh fruits, nuts and vegetables grown in California and 75 percent of those commodities in Arizona. This totals about half of the nation’s fresh produce.

The California State Senator who held hearings in Sacramento regarding the Spinach/E. coli crisis has issued a statement of praise for the proposal:

Senator Dean Florez, D-Shafter, who held hearings into the recent E. coli outbreak from fresh bagged spinach that killed three and sickened hundreds and who has announced plans for a package of legislation dubbed the California Produce Safety Action Plan to help ward off future outbreaks, released the following statement today in response by Western Growers’ announcement that they will support enhanced, mandatory food safety processes for spinach and leafy greens: “I applaud the industry’s public recognition of the need for mandatory regulations to ensure food safety, and I look forward to convening a follow-up hearing to better understand what Western Growers is proposing. This is the type of call to action that we were encouraging at the Governmental Organization hearing, so I’m encouraged by this news.”

“Still, we can’t discount what happened and the failure of the state’s responsibility on these issues over the course of nine outbreaks. We need these reforms written into law through the California Produce Safety Action Plan to ensure that we have in place real enforcement and prevention, so that the state will not remain passive in its response to future outbreaks. I look forward to discussing this proposal and incorporating these concepts into legislation that will ensure California produce remains second to none.”

The proposal is intriguing and raises three issues:

  1. It seems to supersede the voluntary buyer-led effort that we commented on here. In our piece, we commented on the fact that many felt mandatory efforts were essential but pointed out that the effort could still serve an important role:

    That doesn’t mean the buyer-led effort is misguided. In the past, many of the rules that govern the produce industry were developed by private organizations and then, later, codified in law or regulation. One wonders if this effort isn’t best thought of as an attempt to develop a plan that could be submitted to government for review and implementation through legislation or regulation.
  2. The proposal makes reference to WGA’s “association partners”:

    In addition, Western Growers has formed a close working relationship with other association partners: the Produce Marketing Association, United Fresh Produce Association, Grower Shipper Association of Central California and the California Farm Bureau Federation. “We were very pleased by the reactions of our association partners to our proposed plan to develop mandatory good agricultural practices and to initiate mandatory marketing orders at the state and federal levels. We have encouraged them to ask their respective boards to support our actions,” said Nassif.

Yet it seems odd that a proposal that calls for “…a federal marketing order to develop comprehensive and mandatory national spinach and leafy green food safety standards” —meaning a national program — would be released at all without the unanimous backing of all these associations.

It seems to add credence to those who think we need to merge United and PMA to present a united front in D.C., a subject we’ve dealt with here, here and here.

A National Marketing Order could be arranged in such a way as to cover imports as well as domestic product. This is done with both the National Mango Board and the Hass Avocado Board and addresses the issue that Tom Nassif raised previously, which we covered on October 2, 1006:

Voluntary implementation is what the industry has always wanted, but I am starting to find it difficult to believe that this will hold. We need, as an industry, to reexamine the point. Tom Nassif of Western Growers Association, raises a valid point about holding foreign producers to the same high food safety standard, but it is difficult to hold foreign producers to voluntary standards.

By going to a mandatory standard, they solve this problem.

The question is: Will the FDA feel bound by this? That is, will the FDA accept the food safety efforts as satisfactory or look to impose additional regulations? We need to get to a place where the FDA will blame government, not industry, if there is another food safety outbreak and the players all obeyed the rules.

But the decision to endorse mandatory food safety rules is epochal and has enormous implications. There is zero logical reason to think this would be confined to spinach and leafy greens. Melons, green onions and tomatoes are bound to be next.

© 2017 Perishable Pundit | Subscribe | Print | Search | Archives | Feedback | Info | Sponsorship | About Jim | Request Speaking Engagement | Contact Us