Tim Hearden/Capital Press
SACRAMENTO — A grower group here that represents nearly all of the leafy greens produced in California wants the federal government to accept its audit process as verification of compliance with new produce safety rules.
The California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement asserts that its existing food safety program already exceeds proposed requirements for produce under the Food Safety Modernization Act.
Under a grower-supported system that has been in place since 2007, government auditors verify that a set of science-based food safety practices are being followed on leafy greens farms, the LGMA explained in a news release.
On average, each LGMA handler in California is inspected by government auditors five times over the course of the season, and each audit includes 183 food safety checkpoints focusing on water, soil, animal intrusion and worker hygiene. A similar program exists in Arizona, and together the two states represent 90 percent of the industry.
“We assume that our standards that we enforce are already going to exceed what the rule requires,” said Scott Horsfall, the marketing order’s chief executive officer. “What we’re proposing is that they work with groups like ours and let us be the verification arm … so we can avoid having another layer of audits and assessments on top of what is already in place.”
The LGMA submitted its proposal in its comments on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s proposed rule, which covers most fruits and vegetables and sets standards for growing, harvesting, packing and holding produce on domestic and foreign farms.
The public comment period ended Nov. 22, but agency officials have agreed to provide additional opportunity for farmers to give input before the rule is finalized.
The FDA “welcomes all comments on the proposed safety rule and these and all comments will be taken into consideration when writing the final rule,” agency spokeswoman Cathy McDermott said in an email.
The leafy greens group’s proposal has the support of some members of Congress and won praise from STOP Foodborne Illness, a consumer group. More than 20 lawmakers led by Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif., told FDA Commissioner Margaret Ann Hamburg in a letter Nov. 13 that the LGMA’s practices align closely with federal goals.
The California and Arizona marketing programs “have a model program that already works to establish a culture of food safety on leafy greens farms,” the representatives wrote. They encouraged the FDA to enter a memorandum of understanding with the marketing programs.
“The main thing is there’s already too many food safety audits and too many inspections that are adding costs for growers,” Horsfall said. “Since we’re already doing this work, it just makes sense for us to work with FDA.”
California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement: http://www.caleafygreens.ca.gov
Lawmakers’ letter regarding produce safety rule: http://www.lgma.ca.gov/sites/default/files/LGMA_MOU_FSMA%20_Letter_Final.pdf
STOP Foodborne Illness: http://www.stopfoodborneillness.org