Another USDA Threat to Small/Organic Farms

By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson

Undaunted by the passage last year of the Food Safety Modernization Act, which took responsibility for safe food out of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and gave it to the Food and Drug Administration, USDA is trying to re-establish itself as the arbiter of food safety, at least where leafy green vegetables are concerned.

NOFA, the Northeast Organic Farming Association, warns us about this.

USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, an agency with no food safety expertise or authority, is proposing to establish a set of food safety regulations for leafy greens (spinach, lettuce, and cabbage) growers and handlers who sell into the wholesale market, called the National Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (NLGMA).

No surprise, Big Agriculture is pushing this scheme. Signing on to it would be voluntary for sellers, processors, and distributors of lettuce, spinach, and cabbage, but those who do sign would then require the farmers they buy from to with the standards the agreement sets, adding a second and contradictory layer of food safety standards and inspections to the ones established by the FDA under the new law.

USDA is accepting comment on this proposal until July 28. I’m telling you about this because I think it’s unacceptable to let the marketing arm of an organization that has failed so spectacularly in keeping our food safe involve itself in food safety to the detriment of small and medium-sized organic farmers, and to the preferences of those of us who choose organically grown foods because we don’t want to poison our children or ourselves.

You can click here to submit a comment to the USDA.  Before you do, however, you may want to read NOFA’s suggestion of points you might raise.

  • I oppose the creation of a National Leafy Green Marketing Agreement, which I believe to be the wrong approach to address food safety concerns.
  • The Agricultural Marketing Service is not a food safety agency. It is bad public policy to create food safety regulations in order to address the “marketing” goal of increasing consumer confidence in the safety of leafy greens. Food safety policies should be driven by science, not by marketing problems.
  • The NLGMA, as proposed, would give the large conventional produce industry the ability to use its own world view to dictate farming practices. Small scale and organic farmers would have a very small voice in the standard-setting process.
  • The NLGMA is modeled on state food safety agreements in California and Arizona. In those examples, the conventional produce industry has pushed through food safety regulations that are biased against organic and small-scale farmers, have led to the destruction of wildlife habitat and discouraged good conservation practices on farms.
  • Diversified farming operations with complex rotations have been shown to be beneficial to the environment. Yet crop-by-crop food safety regulations, such as the NLGMA, are an economic disaster for diversified farming operations, and are biased toward large mono-cultural operations. For a farmer with 40 crops on 100 acres to comply with 40 different food safety regulations is prohibitively burdensome. Crop specific food safety regulations, such as NLGMA, will drive farmers out of environmentally sensitive diversified crop production, and toward chemical-intensive mono-cultural operations. This is counter to the goals of food safety and more environmentally sound agriculture.
  • The Food and Drug Administration is currently writing regulations to establish food safety standards for produce. Why is AMS proposing to establish standards that conflict with or duplicate the FDA standards, with the conventional leafy greens handlers in the drivers’ seat?

NOFA adds:

The NLGMA is a disaster waiting to happen, for farmers, consumers, the environment, and ultimately for food safety.

Here’s the link again were you can file your comment.

Related Links:

Big Ag At It Again

Agricultural Marketing Service Proposed Marketing Agreement for Leafy Greens

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