Corporate-Backed and Bogus: The Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement

usda-logo_for_webWe don’t need yet another seal when it comes to food safety – we need real change in the production process that creates a safe food system, (especially when it comes to contamination-causing manure!)  not another seal to trick consumers. The so-called Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement doesn’t guarantee safer food for consumers. Worse, it could actually harm small and medium size vegetable growers.

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

The California Certified Organic Farmers (COOF) and The Cornucopia Institute, a farm policy group, are just two organizations that have expressed concerns about the agreement’s transparency and validity.

Clearly, consumers who see a USDA-seal on some veggies and not another’s will assume the first is safer, when in fact, most likely the very opposite is true!  In fact, in an ironic twist, one of the signatories to the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement Industry, Ippolito International, recalled 1,715 cartons of spinach due to salmonella contamination just the other day.

“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.

I’m passionate about poor animal conditions and its impact on food quality and safety. Clearly, the focus should be on the cause of most food contamination outbreaks: improper handling of mountains of manure containing pathogenic E. coli and salmonella that are generated on livestock factory farms that contaminate our surface water, groundwater and farm fields.

Growers Outraged

“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.

Growers and consumers are being encouraged to show up at one of a series of hearing sessions in September and October across the country – the USDA isn’t accepting comments in writing. Read the entire Leafy Greens Marketing Proposal for yourself, and stay tuned to for updates.

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  • David  September 29, 2009 at 7:21 pm

    Why are organic growers against improved food safety? I am a member of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement. It is a science based program with inspections done by USDA trained auditors. The food safety requirements are stringent and it requires a strong commitment to pass their inspections. We take food safety very seriously and by the way, we are a very small family farm with only 10 acres in production.

    What I have seen is that organic farmers don’t want to be accountable for the safety of their operations. That is why they manufacture the idea that food safety is a bad thing created by the large corporations.

  • antonio  October 1, 2009 at 8:16 am

    A science based program? Its a profit based program.
    ‘Food safety’ as its being proposed and mandated here is nothing more than a corporate agenda.

    You dont have to subordinate yourself and your farm to the US government, its corporate run agencies in order to be successful.

  • Paul  October 2, 2009 at 8:00 am

    I would encourage all stakeholders to actually read the proposed National Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement. Therein they will find that:

    1.) No one is guaranteeing the safety of anything; however, the program aims to develop scientifically defensible, regionally-based growing, handling and manufacturing practices – developed by a coalition of stakeholders including government entities, academics and the industry. These practices have NOT been developed. This proposal sets up the infrastructure by which a coalition of stakeholders can come to the table and develop those practices.
    2.) The proposal, as is currently drafted would require that at least two “small” growers participate in the development of these practices.
    3.) The “seal” is to be used primarily on bills of lading. California and Arizona have had a similar program in place for multiple years now; has anyone seen a USDA-approved “seal” on any of the leafy greens in the market? No. The seal is used on bills of lading so retailers know that the product in question was handled and grown according to the practices outlined in those state’s agreements.

    Regarding transparency, there was an open comment period on the need for USDA to pursue a marketing agreement about a year ago. There has been a Web site – – on-line for about a year calling for stakeholders to provide comments on the proposal. Many of those comments and suggestions have been added to the proposed agreement. Furthermore, the proposed NLGMA has been prominently covered on the USDA AMS site. There was a Webinar where proponents explained the proposal and answered every question offered up by the more than 200 attendees, nationwide (the Webinar along with those questions and answers are available at A large group of regional, state and national proponents have been communicating this process with their respective constituents for more than a year. The proponents called for, and USDA granted, a series of public hearings, across the nation, (which are ongoing) to discuss the merits of the proposal. I am not sure how this process could be more transparent.

    There are a handful of different “metrics” or standards out there, and many of them are very costly. The entire industry needs to work toward one set of practices, defensible by sound science, which can replace those “super metrics” being handed down by the buying community. The National Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement would afford stakeholders that opportunity.

    Lastly, this program is voluntary. If producers do not want to participate, they do not have to.

  • Tim  October 13, 2009 at 9:19 am

    What suprises me is that everyone believes that processed manure is safe to use. How many people would buy baby greens if they know that chicken manure was applied to the top 2 inches of

  • Tim  October 13, 2009 at 9:19 am

    What suprises me is that everyone believes that processed manure is safe to use. How many people would buy baby greens if they know that chicken manure was applied to the top 2 inches of

  • Tim  October 13, 2009 at 9:22 am

    Manure is applied to the top 2 inches of soil and routinely harvested along with the lettuce.
    Are we to trust that the maure is indeed sterile?

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