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(UPDATED) The U.S. Department of Agriculture formally recommended a proposal Tuesday, April 26, for the establishment of a National Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, with the expectation that the voluntary marketing agreement will be in place by the end of the year.

At first glance, industry observers said that the proposal looks to be very much in line with industry recommendations that were first put forth about four years ago after the spinach contamination issue of 2006. That event, which resulted in spinach sales coming to a halt for several weeks, led to the development and establishment of voluntary Leafy Green Marketing Agreements in California and Arizona. Of course, leafy greens are grown throughout the country, so efforts to create a national agreement were proposed along with the individual state programs. In fact, the state efforts moved forward largely because of the knowledge that a national effort would take much longer to put in place, which has proven to be true.

The industry proponent group, which includes several regional and national produce associations, released a joint statement praising the work of the USDA. The statement said that the proponent group has concluded its work and would now form a "working group" of "all interested parties to review and assess the recommendations made by USDA.” It added, “Our first step will be to analyze this proposal within our own organizations, gain insight and perspective from our members and volunteer leaders and then engage and encourage others to provide constructive comments to USDA on their recommendation over the next 90 days."

The USDA proposal calls for comments within 90 days. During the presentation of the proposal in a conference call, the USDA indicated that it would then take another 90 days to review the comments and issue a final rule. Assuming the secretary of agriculture agrees that a marketing agreement is warranted, the proposal could be in place as soon as late fall. It would then be incumbent upon growers and handlers to sign the marketing agreement and follow its provisions.

Hank Giclas, vice present of science, technology and strategic planning for Western Growers Association, which helped spearhead both the state and national marketing agreements, said that he had not read the entire USDA proposal, "but I didn't hear anything yesterday [during the USDA presentation] that was conceptually different than what the industry proposed." He said that the USDA listened to the previous comments from the industry and others and "tinkered" with the proposal, but it appears to be the type of program that the industry asked for.

If it is put in place by the secretary of agriculture, Mr. Giclas said that "marketplace pressure" and other factors, including compliance with the Food Safety Modernization Act, should be strong motivators for all growers and handlers to sign the agreement and adhere to its provisions.