National Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement Could Harm Local, Family-scale and Organic Growers

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Mark Kastel, 608-625-2042

National Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement Could Harm Local, Family-scale and Organic Growers

Corporate Agribusiness Proposes Regulating Itself Instead of Stricter Governmental Food Safety Oversight

WASHINGTON - USDA hearings begin this
week on a proposal that would authorize the development of production and
handling regulations for a long list of fresh vegetables, primarily leafy
greens.  The first of seven national hearings starts Tuesday, September 22 in Monterey, California,
and then will shift to other locations across the country.

The
proposed marketing agreement would allow leafy green handlers to attach a
USDA-backed "food safety seal" to lettuce, spinach, cabbage and
other vegetables while prohibiting most organic and local farmers selling
through farmers markets, CSAs, roadside stands, and those selling directly to
retailers from using the same seal. 

The
plan, hatched and promoted by some of the nation's largest corporate
agribusinesses that distribute vegetables, is similar to a controversial California agreement
that was put into place after spinach, contaminated with E. coli bacteria, sickened
199 people in 26 states and left three dead in September, 2006.   

"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. 

Industry
proponents pushing this will be hard pressed to demonstrate that their proposal
will actually prevent food borne illness.  Just days ago, on September 18,
Ippolito International, a signatory to the California Leafy Greens Marketing
Agreement, recalled 1,715 cartons of spinach due to salmonella
contamination.       

But
the proposed safety standards, which have been described as a "corporate-backed marketing ploy,"
may give agribusinesses using the new food safety seal a boost and lead many
consumers to assume that vegetables from industrial-scale monoculture farms,
primarily in California,
are safer than the leafy greens available from local growers around the country.
 And that has some farmers worried.

"I am concerned
that organic, and small and medium sized local growers like
myself, will become marketplace ‘second-class citizens' in the eyes
of some consumers, by implying that my produce is less safe - when the
very opposite is likely to be true," said Tom Willey, a certified organic
vegetable grower from Madera, CA.

In fact, the produce most likely to be
implicated in foodborne illness outbreaks are the bags of leafy
greens on supermarket shelves rather than organic produce bought directly from a
farmer or when distributed to a local co-op or specialty retailer.    

In addition, farmers who want to sell to
handlers using the new food safety seal will likely have to implement costly
record-keeping and testing protocols on their acreage.  This is economically
unfeasible for many small growers. 

Some farmers may even have to undo decades
of conservation and habitat-based improvements - such as water and shoreland
stream buffers - in the attempt to isolate their crops from wildlife,
that have never been proven to be the source of past contamination problems.  "Isolating
wildlife is a smokescreen deflecting concern away from factory farm livestock
production which is demonstrated to create water, air and soil
contamination," Fantle added.

The September 18th edition of
the New York Times ran a
disturbing cover story about widespread contamination of well water in states
with high concentrations of industrial-scale livestock facilities. 
Contaminated water in rural areas, used for irrigation or for washing
vegetables, has been implicated in past contamination incidents involving fresh
vegetables.

"The
Cornucopia Institute agrees that
the safety of our food supply is a vitally important issue," said Fantle. 
"This is precisely why we believe that the USDA should not allow corporate handlers to mix
serious food safety concerns with their self-serving marketing
interests." 

###

The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based nonprofit farm policy research group, is dedicated to the fight for economic justice for the family-scale farming community.  Their Organic Integrity Project acts as a corporate and governmental watchdog assuring that no compromises to the credibility of organic farming methods and the food it produces are made in the pursuit of profit.  Their web page can be viewed at www.cornucopia.org.  

 

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