The National Leafy Green Marketing Agreement: Not for the greens, but for their wholesalers, shippers and processors.
September 30, 2009
The National Leafy Green Marketing Agreement has been proposed to the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service. This marketing agreement proposal is requesting that the USDA grant handlers (wholesalers, shippers and processors) who follow food certain health regulations a USDA seal indicating their superior safety. These regulations were drafted by leafy green industry members and would be regulated by a committee made up largely of people who stand to benefit from the agreement. Supporters of the agreement include The Arizona Farm Bureau and the California Farm Bureau (Arizona and California grow 75% of the country’s leafy greens) among others.
Aside from leaving small, diversified farms struggling in the public eye, this marketing scheme is flawed in that it is a conflict of interest. Firstly, the benefits of the agreement are not passed down to the farmers who end up with the brunt of the regulations. Since a USDA seal only benefits the handler and not the farmer, it is unlikely that any negative effects of this scheme on the level of the farm would be properly weighed, noticed, or solved in a way that works for these farmers. For example, the regulations call for limiting wildlife on farms as much as possible.
The main conflict of interest is that these new safety measures were written by industry members, the committee to regulate them suggested by industry members, and benefit only these members. Not to mention it is generally considered the job of the FDA to regulate food safety, not the companies that are themselves producing the food.
So a lot of small/diversified farm advocates are opposed to this agreement namely the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. However, we must look at the big picture. There will always be big industry out there. And it is imperitive these industries prioritise important issues such as consumer safety. Basically, we want leafy greens to be more healthy, and of course we want to offer a higher premium to those that provide safer products. However, these huge marketing schemes can only germinate in the pockets of industry. The huge growers that grow only lettuce and that make a lot of money doing so. They have the power to convince the USDA to make a label for them and this label effectively convinces consumers that food produced by large distributors is safer than the food produced on local farms. We do want big industries to care about food safety, but this is what the FDA was established for.
If the agreement is a go or if it isn’t, if you know the hand that feeds you you do not have to bother with seals.
For a much better description of the NLGMA and agricultural marketing schemes in general, plus a first hand account of the proceedings in Monterey, CA please visit the great food policy blog The Ethicuran.