A National Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement could harm family-scale farmers—disadvantaging some of the safest local and organic growers in the nation
The USDA has announced a series of hearing sessions in September and October across the country to allow members of the public—especially fresh vegetable growers and handlers—to comment on a proposed agreement that would authorize the development and implementation of production and handling regulations for a long list of fresh vegetables, primarily leafy greens.
The proposed marketing agreement would allow corporate leafy green handlers to attach a USDA-backed “food safety seal” to lettuce, spinach, cabbage and other vegetables while prohibiting organic and local farmers at farmers markets, CSAs and roadside stands, and those selling directly to retailers, from using the same seal. This corporate-backed marketing ploy may lead many consumers to assume that vegetables from industrial-scale monoculture farms in, primarily, California are safer than the leafy greens at local farmers markets.
As if this weren’t bad enough,the industry proponents that are pushing this initiative have not been able to show that any set of standards would actually prevent food borne illness. Standards in California, which would likely provide the basis for the national program, have not prevented contamination—today (September 18), a signatory to the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement recalled 1,715 cartons of spinach due to salmonella contamination.
Such corporate marketing gimmicks could do real harm to the growing local and organic food movement while having a questionable impact on protecting consumers.
The USDA is not accepting written comments at this time—only in-person testimony will be considered. Hearings will be held in seven locations (CA, FL, OH, CO, AZ, NY, NC), specifics on hearing locations and dates are available at www.cornucopia.org. We
encourage growers and handlers of leafy greens to appear in person at a hearing session to deliver your message.
The safety of our food supply is a vitally important issue, which is why the USDA should not allow corporate handlers to mix serious food safety concerns with self-serving marketing interests.
The Cornucopia Institute has prepared a set of talking points for growers and handlers to use when giving testimony. We urge anyone who is able to attend these hearing sessions to deliver a unified message, which must be heard loud and clear: we do not support a marketing agreement as an appropriate vehicle for improving food safety.
Industry proponents claim they represent more than half, by volume, of the leafy green business in this country. And they may succeed in establishing this marketing agreement.
We must share the following concerns with the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement:
- Helping representatives of large-scale, monoculture agriculture dominate the entire leafy greens farming community will place unnecessary burdens on small-scale and diversified growers.
- Giving industry representatives control over food safety does a disservice to our citizenry’s need for safer food—that is appropriately the job of independent scientists and regulators. Not only will this proposed marketing agreement create a false sense of security, but it will further fragmentize our already disjointed food safety system.
- Creating a USDA seal for this agribusiness initiative will relegate local, organic and small-scale growers to a “second-class citizen” status in the marketplace in the eyes of some consumers, by implying that their food is less safe, when the very opposite is likely to be true.
In the event that the powerful industry players succeed in convincing the USDA to adopt their proposal, we also must propose substantive changes to the marketing agreement, including:
- An exemption for organic and small-scale, diverse farmers.
- Elimination of a seal for the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, which may be falsely construed as a food safety guarantee.
- Focus on the cause of most food contamination outbreaks: improper handling of the mountains of manure containing pathogenic E. coli and salmonella that are generated on livestock factory farms, and that contaminate our surface water, groundwater and farm fields.
The USDA is especially interested in hearing testimony from growers and handlers of leafy greens. Your testimony at one of the hearings will be an invaluable part of the democratic process—we need as many growers and handlers, and their urban allies, to deliver this important message on the record.
CLICK HERE to see Cornucopia’s detailed TALKING POINTS
CLICK HERE for specifics on hearing locations and dates
PLEASE RESPOND to [email protected] if you are planning to attend one of the hearing sessions or have additional questions.