Food safety remains topmost as vegetables transition to the desert

Arizona’s growers will soon decide if they will adopt a leafy greens marketing agreement similar to the one in place in California. Growers are now in the process of signing up for the agreement, after which the Arizona Department of Agriculture will assess that support and make a decision whether or not to continue the legal process to establish it.

In California, more than 99 percent of the handlers have signed on to the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, according to Paul Simonds, communications manager for Western Growers Association (WGA).

“Though Western Growers has no official role in day-to-day operations of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, we are very pleased with what has transpired over the last year,” Simonds says.

The industry-led efforts earlier this year created the California Leafy Greens Handler Marketing Agreement (LGMA), which requires, as a matter of state law, that all participating companies comply with mandatory, scientifically-based practices to reduce risk of contamination in the production and harvesting of leafy greens. LGMA is backed with periodic verification audits of leafy greens growers and handlers by government inspectors.

“The implementation of the LGMA has imposed compliance with Good Agricultural Practices that were developed after the E. coli outbreak,” Simonds says. “These metrics, which serve as the backbone to the agreement, were developed in cooperation with independent food safety experts from Centers for Disease Control, Food and Drug Administration, USDA, the California Department of Public Health, food safety scientists from around the country, academic experts, and others.”

Since July, 2007, government auditors have conducted an average of 30 audits each week under the California LGMA legislative umbrella. All companies currently producing and selling leafy green products have been audited. Those audits are ongoing and will continue throughout the growing season.

“The success of our industry begins and ends with our commitment to public health,” says Joe Pezzini, chair of the LGMA board of directors. “Our livelihood depends on it, and we remain committed to constant innovation in the way we grow, process, and ship our products. I want to reassure consumers that we are 100 percent committed to insuring a safe and healthy eating experience every bite, every time.”

Initial support for a similar agreement among Arizona growers appears strong, according to the Yuma Fresh Vegetable Association. Since a large number of California growers also operate in the desert during the winter, the continuity in the approach to insuring food safety is largely considered a smart move on the part of the industry.

“We are encouraged by those shippers in Arizona who are pursuing a marketing agreement of their own,” Simonds says. “We believe it is important that all leafy greens grown and harvested in both states are produced utilizing Good Agricultural Practices, which are based on the most up-to-date scientific data we have at our disposal.”

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