SACRAMENTO, CA -- While a national debate on how to improve the safety of the U.S. food supply continues, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was honored by the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement for his role in developing an innovative food safety program.
The award was presented March 24 to Gov. Schwarzenegger as part of the state's celebration of Ag Day.
Three years ago, Mr. Schwarzenegger saw the need for increased government oversight of food safety systems within the leafy greens industry following an E. coli outbreak associated with spinach. Mr. Schwarzenegger, working with the leafy greens industry, quickly established the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, which created a mechanism for mandatory government inspections to ensure compliance with established food safety practices on leafy greens farms. The marketing agreement is the first program of its kind in the nation.
Gov. Schwarzenegger was presented with the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement's Golden Checkmark Award for his leadership and support of mandatory government inspection of food safety systems within the produce industry. This was the first time the award has been presented.
"We've heard a lot of talk recently about the need for mandatory government oversight of food safety systems within the food industry," Joe Pezzini, a leafy greens farmer and chairman of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement board, said in a March 24 press release. "What few realize is that a system to provide government inspection of food safety systems already exists for California leafy greens. We have Governor Schwarzenegger to thank for establishing this unprecedented program to protect public health."
Mr. Pezzini went on to say that with the creation of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, a system is now in place which involves mandatory government inspections to ensure that food safety practices are being followed by California leafy greens farmers. Since the agreement's inception in April 2007, nearly 1,000 audits of California leafy greens farms have been conducted by government inspectors.
The California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement is operated with oversight from the California Department of Food & Agriculture, under the direction of CDFA Secretary A.G. Kawamura, a member of Gov. Schwarzenegger's Cabinet. Through the program, audits of California leafy greens farms are conducted on a regular and random basis by government inspectors employed by the CDFA and trained by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
"California farmers of leafy greens products, like lettuce and spinach, have the force of law behind them through these government agencies to ensure the food safety practices are enforced," Secretary Kawamura said in the press release, adding that the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement represents a public-private partnership with a common goal to protect public health. "The government provides third-party program oversight and conducts all inspections, while the cost of these inspections is paid for through industry assessments. The system is an efficient utilization of resources during these times of severe budget constraints."
Mr. Kawamura also noted the marketing agreement has become a model for programs in other states, and a national leafy greens marketing agreement is being considered by the USDA.
"With this Golden Checkmark Award, LGMA members are recognizing Governor Schwarzenegger's leadership and foresight to protect public health and promote improved food safety systems," said Mr. Pezzini. "It is our way of thanking the governor for his assistance in developing this program and for taking a stand to protect public health. Without the governor's commitment to ensuring government oversight of food safety systems in the leafy greens industry, this program would not be possible."