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LGMA: An Effective Partnership to Help Prevent Foodborne Illness

Opinion

The California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA) has submitted its official comments on the Food Safety Modernization Act’s proposed Produce Safety Rule. The comments focus on a number of suggestions to strengthen the proposed rule, but the most important comment offered by the LGMA presents the U.S. Food and Drug Administration with a solution that would quickly allow it to regulate 90 percent of the leafy greens produced in the United States at no cost to the public. Read more about the LGMA’s comments here.

The opinion piece by Daniel Cohen entitled, “FDA’s Proposed Produce Rule: A War on Farmers,” contained a great deal of misdirected information. Since some of it involved the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA), we felt we should respond to the editors of Food Safety News. We also wanted to make an important point about the LGMA and its role in ensuring leafy greens producers are in compliance with proposed food-safety laws for produce.

The LGMA was created in 2007 in the aftermath of the 2006 outbreak of E. coli associated with spinach. This effort was not a war on farmers, but a sincere effort by the farming community to prevent such a tragedy from happening again.  Thankfully, it hasn’t.

Secondly, the people who created the LGMA did so very carefully, taking into consideration the impact such a program might have on farmers who may not be able to, or want to, participate. The LGMA is authorized under California law by the 1937 Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act and, as an agreement, membership is voluntary. Leafy greens handlers may sign on to the LGMA and agree to abide by its mandates. However, they do not have to do so. And every member is allowed to opt out of the program each year if they so choose.

The LGMA is very proud to state there is an overwhelming commitment to this food-safety program within the California leafy greens community. LGMA members represent more than 99 percent of the leafy greens produced in the state. This means the vast majority of leafy greens producers in California have invited government auditors into their fields and farms to ensure they are following required food-safety practices. The system has, in fact, made leafy greens safer because the program focuses on putting food safety first. The mandatory government audits require 100-percent compliance with all food-safety checkpoints, and all citations must be corrected. This system drives continuous improvement and establishes a culture of food safety in which everyone from the top down is focused on prevention. Mr. Cohen is correct in his statement that not all foodborne illness outbreaks are linked to farming, but preventing outbreaks certainly starts with proper food safety on the farm.

This week, the LGMA submitted its comments to FDA regarding the Food Safety Modernization Act’s proposed Produce Safety Rule. As part of these comments, LGMA is asking FDA to utilize our program to verify compliance with FSMA laws.  The LGMA requirements already meet or exceed the laws being proposed and audits are conducted by an independent, unbiased government agency. If FDA grants our request, more than 90 percent of the leafy greens grown in the U.S. could quickly comply with new federal food-safety laws. A large amount of support for this concept exits. A letter of support was recently issued to the FDA by a group of bipartisan Congressional representatives from California and Arizona. In addition, STOP Foodborne Illness, an advocacy group representing individuals impacted by foodborne illness, has high praise for our program.

We truly believe the LGMA model is the best food-safety regulatory system because it is an effective, efficient partnership between industry and government. That said, the LGMA fully understands this system may not work for everyone. Our request to FDA is not that all farmers be regulated in a manner similar to our model, but we are asking that FDA recognize the LGMA system has worked for the California and Arizona leafy greens industry for six years. There is no reason for additional duplication or cost to ensure certified members of these programs are in compliance with new food-safety laws.

© Food Safety News
  • Daniel B. Cohen

    I would like to thank Scott Horsfall for taking the time to write a rebuttal and give a different perspective on “The War on Farmers”.

    The LGMA does an excellent job within its own framework. There are two aspects of this that may not be familiar, and I commend them on: the support by many of the companies in the LGMA of critical research on produce safety, and their use of USDA certified CDFA (California Department of Food and Agriculture) inspectors who are familiar with farming as well as with the produce safety standards, which often exceed those in the proposed produce rule. Technically both the inspectors and the CA LGMA are both parts of the same agency (CDFA). The Secretary has the ultimate authority over the entire agency.

    I happen to not accept that framework as a model, and note that even in the above editorial a partnership between industry and government is mentioned but not a partnership between industry and farmers. The LGMA is a handler and processor agreement and a handler and processor run agency of the California Department of Food and Agriculture. The members also dominate the market for leafy green produce handling in California. Only farmers with alternative marketing channels can afford to say “no” to the LGMA.

    If the produce safety rule goes through in its present form, then the LGMA’s proposal, described above, makes a lot of sense. I think the produce rule should not go forward in its present form.

    Research documenting the effect of the LGMA on food safety, and how this inter-relates with other food safety changes, such as improvement of processing safety (which is not covered by the LGMA), would be important for any policy decisions going forward.

  • farmber

    The CA LGMA tried to take its handler enhancement scheme national — but the NLGMA met with stiff resistance all around the country and now it languishes somewhere in the bowels of USDA.

    Putting farmers through the wringer just didn’t go over well — and in the hinterlands (ie. the rest of the US where CA buyers don’t hold sway) there was a huge reaction against the ruinous metrics which wipe out taxpayer paid conservation enhancements, turn farmers into wildlife (frogs, et al) exterminators, and burden farms with huge costs of compliance.

    All to make the inherently risky Fresh Cut agribiz look good.

    But it doesn’t look good — and exemplifies what’s wrong with today’s industrialized food system where a single contamination event, co-mingled with product from dozens of fields can be centrally processed and go on via distribution and handling channels to your area supermarket to poison consumers in multi-state areas. And be assured most product will be consumed before traceback occurs, let alone a recall.

    Yes indeedy the model CA LGMA is a model for the war on farmers. Mr Cohen raised the bottom line question — has the establishment of the LGMA demonstrably improved food safety?

    The answer is No.