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Is WGA’s Food Safety Proposal
Up To The Job?

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, December 5, 2006

In the course of our discussions with buyers who didn’t elect to sign onto the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative, we heard from those who wanted to keep the media buzz down and those who felt it was the government’s job to establish food safety regulations.

Some buyers thought there was a lot of ulterior motives in all these proposals and still others cautioned that there may be unintended consequences to the buyer-led plan.

Some of the buyers also weren’t thrilled with the Western Growers Association’s proposal. Several objected to the two-stage method of the proposal; first a California Marketing Order and then some time in the future, a Federal Marketing Order. One buyer put it this way:

With regards to the suggestion of a California Marketing order, I really struggle with that! What we say in that case is that now, California spinach has some value over and above Colorado spinach, New York spinach, Texas spinach, or any other growing region. And when they place that thought process in front of the consumer, we now ask the consumer to discriminate between growing regions!

Well, asking consumers to discriminate between growing regions isn’t so rare. One could argue it is the exact purpose of most of the state departments of ag-based programs — Jersey Fresh, Georgia Grown, etc. — and of the state-based marketing promotion programs, such as the Idaho Potato Commission.

Safety may be different, but I hear Momma Pundit whispering in my ear: “Don’t let the best be the enemy of the good.”

The WGA has expressed its hope that buyers will insist on all product meeting California standards until the Federal law can be passed. Yet it is realistic enough to know it will take several years to get Federal legislation passed.

If you believe in mandatory regulation, but oppose a state level solution, you are really suggesting several years with no regulation.

In fact, the most likely route to federal regulation is a successful state program.

To the Pundit the more serious issue regarding the WGA’s proposal is the possibility that the marketing order will not be a tool to create and enforce the most rigorous standards but, instead, will codify mediocrity or worse.

If we assume that excellence in food safety practices follows a normal distribution or bell curve, then only a small percentage of growers are doing world class work. What would make us believe that growers will vote to make their own practices illegal?

WGA deserves kudos for quickly stepping up to the plate and accepting the need for a mandatory standard. But the tool that WGA has in its arsenal may not be adequate for the job at hand.

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