USDA Terminates Proposed National Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has terminated the proposed National Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, according to an announcement in the December 5 Federal Register. The proposed agreement would have established a voluntary program that would have included mandatory compliance for its signatories under the authority of the Act. The agreement would have authorized the development and implementation of handling audit metrics consistent with the FDA’s good production, handling and manufacturing practices. Signatory handlers would have been required to only handle domestic and imported leafy green vegetables that met the audit requirements established under the agreement. The program would have been overseen by the Agricultural Marketing Service and would have been financed by assessments collected from signatory first handlers. Proponents anticipated that the proposed agreement would help minimize the potential for microbial contamination in production and handling systems and improve consumer confidence in leafy green vegetables in the United States market.
Industry leaders suggest that with the implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and the amount of time that has transpired since the initial proposal (4-5 years ago), too much had changed in the arena of produce food safety for a national program to be relevant.
Other leaders criticized the decision, stating that this was a proactive approach that would have afforded leafy green producers an opportunity to develop their own food safety programs with oversight from federal agencies.
Produce leaders have promised to continue to verify compliance with existing rules, and with FSMA down the road. The decision raises questions about how the FSMA will address issues specifically related to leafy greens across the country. Termination of this proceeding will remove ex parte communication prohibitions and allow USDA to engage fully with all interested parties to discuss and consider the evolving needs of the industry and consumers going forward.