The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) held its first meeting to gather input on a proposed leafy greens safety plan from growers and shippers yesterday. 

The USDA is trying to determine whether there is enough interest in the leafy green industry to enact a voluntary national agreement similar to the voluntary Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA) implemented after the catastrophic spinach outbreak in 2006 that killed three and sickened over 200 people in 26 states. The proposed plan would allow leafy green handlers to use a USDA-approved food safety seal for following growing practices.

In California, 99 percent of the leafy green handlers have adopted the LGMA.  The new proposal would extend a similar agreement to all states.

The USDA has reportedly received over 3,000 written comments on the proposal. 

Some worry that the rules offer a one-size-fits all approach that would put small growers at a disadvantage.

“This proposed food safety agreement will do nothing to tackle the root cause of the food safety problem, which is, in most cases, manure from confined animal feeding operations that is tainted with disease-causing pathogenic bacteria,” said Will Fantle, of the Wisconsin-based farm policy group, The Cornucopia Institute.

The proposed agreement would cover arugula, cabbage, chard, cilantro, endive, escarole, kale, lettuce, parsley, radicchio, spinach, and spring mix.

The current LGMA in California requires mandatory audits that certifies member compliance with certain food safety practices. The agreement requires that companies have a food safety plan, an up-to-date list of growers, and a traceback program in place. Water testing, field audits, and pre-season and pre-harvest assessments are also requirements.