By Brittany Jablonsky, NFU Government Relations Representative

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently published a proposed rule to establish a proposed national marketing agreement regulating leafy green vegetables. This rulemaking was the result of a request by the largest players in the industry, who asked for regulations based on the statewide agreements established in California and Arizona in the wake of the 2006 E. coli outbreak in California spinach.

If this agreement moves forward, it will provide the largest produce handlers (processors, shippers and packers of leafy green vegetables) the power to establish on-farm practices for all growers of leafy greens, regardless of size.

The phrase “largest produce handlers” is not an overstatement. In fact, the 150 signatories on the California and Arizona leafy green marketing agreements comprise nearly 90 percent of U.S. leafy green production.

  • The agreement would establish regulations that conflict with the realities of small and medium-sized diverse farms, certain conservation measures and organic production methods and that are enforced through burdensome recordkeeping requirements and commodity-specific metrics.
  • Proponents of the agreement argue that it is voluntary and therefore shouldn’t adversely affect farmers because they can always choose to sell to handlers who are not part of the agreement. However, if no handlers will accept produce outside of the agreement, it certainly is no longer voluntary.
  • The proposed National Leafy Green Marketing Agreement will not make our food safer, but will only serve to put additional power in the hands of an already-concentrated industry and place another burden on small family farmers while ignoring the threat of foodborne illnesses from processing and imported vegetables.

National Farmers Union, along with many small farmers across the country, asked USDA to withdraw their proposed rule when it was first introduced in 2007, but the Department did not heed that call.

USDA needs to hear from family farmers like you about why a National Leafy Green Marketing Agreement will harm small produce growers. You may submit comments by July 28, 2011 by clicking here or visiting www.regulations.gov and searching for Docket No. AMS-FV-09-0029. You may write your own comments or click here to view a template.

Additional details about the proposed rule can be found here.

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