Today, the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA) submitted its official comments on the Food Safety Modernization Act’s proposed Produce Safety Rule. The comments focus on a number of suggestions to strengthen the proposed rule, but the most important comment offered by the LGMA presents the U.S. Food and Drug Administration with a solution that would quickly allow it to regulate 90 percent of the leafy greens produced in the United States at no cost to the public.
“We are asking the FDA to utilize the California and Arizona LGMAs to verify that leafy greens handlers are compliant with new laws under FSMA,” explained LGMA Chief Executive Officer Scott Horsfall. “We are making this request because the LGMA food safety program not only meets the proposed requirements of FSMA, but it exceeds the requirements of this new law.”
The concept has widespread support from throughout the California and Arizona leafy greens community. A group of Congressional representatives has submitted a letter in support of the LGMA proposal and the program has received praise from STOP Foodborne Illness, a consumer group representing people impacted by foodborne illness.
Through the LGMA, government auditors verify that a set of science-based food safety practices are being following on leafy greens farms. The system has been in place since 2007 and it is fully funded by the leafy greens industry with verification provided by auditors who are certified by the United States Department of Agriculture and operate with oversight from the California Department of Food and Agriculture. On average, each LGMA handler is inspected by government auditors five times over the course of the season, including at least one unannounced audit. Each audit includes 183 food safety checkpoints focusing on water, soil, animal intrusion and worker hygiene. The program requires handlers to be in full compliance with all checkpoints or face decertification from the program.
A similar program exists in Arizona and together the two states account for 90 percent of the leafy greens grown in the United States.
“As leafy greens farmers, we understand we are growing a product consumed in large quantities by people at home and in restaurants and that it is frequently served without being cooked,” said Ryan Talley, a leafy greens farmer from San Luis Obispo, CA and current Board chairman of the California LGMA. “Leafy greens absolutely must be safe.”
STOP Foodborne Illness, a national nonprofit public health organization dedicated to the prevention of illness and death from foodborne illness by advocating for sound public policy, building public awareness, and assisting those impacted by foodborne illness, is also supportive of strong prevention programs like the LGMA. This past summer, STOP representatives visited farms in California and saw the LGMA program in operation.
“We are always in support of effective food safety programs that prevent contamination from farm to fork and therefore prevent illness and death from foodborne illness,” said Deirdre Schlunegger, Chief Executive Officer for STOP Foodborne Illness. “Our visit to California brought farmers and those affected by foodborne illness together for a shared understanding of food safety and the impact of foodborne illness. These farmers are compassionate and clearly committed to food safety.”
“This public-private partnership has been groundbreaking in California because it provides government oversight of food safety with funding from the industry,” said U.S. Representative Sam Farr (D-CA 20th District), who is one of a group of bi-partisan Congressional representatives from California and Arizona who have signed on to a letter supporting the leafy greens industry and all it does for food safety in these two states and across the nation. “By using the LGMA to verify that handlers are compliant with FSMA we can be assured the vast majority of leafy greens are being grown according to science-based food safety practices.”
In order to accomplish its request, the LGMA is recommending that FDA sign a Memorandum of Understanding, or MOU, with the organization. The LGMA notes that precedent exists for FDA to work with industry groups through an MOU process.
Among other top priority comments on the Produce Safety Rule, the LGMA is asking that FDA provide a means for industry-specific training programs – like LGMA Tech -- to attain recognition for equivalency with the training curriculum being developed by the FDA’s Produce Safety Alliance . LGMA Tech is the LGMA’s extensive program that facilitates training of all farm employees on proper food safety practices.
The LGMA also suggests that kale be removed from the list of raw agricultural products exempted from the requirements of the Food Safety Modernization Act and that FDA clarify definitions to ensure that practices routinely undertaken in the field during harvest - including coring, bagging and placing product in shipping containers or boxes – are covered under the requirements of the produce rule. A summary of the top priority comments submitted by the LGMA as well as other information about FSMA can be found in the Food Safety Modernization Act Resource Center located on the LGMA’s website.
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