November 30, 2007
Consumers Union has provided comments on the USDA’s Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding the proposal to handle regulations of leafy green products under the Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act of 1937. The comments, filed by Elisa Odabashian, West Coast Director of Consumers Union, nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, can be found here: http://www.consumersunion.org/pub/core_food_safety/005238.html
In its public comment, Consumers Union opposed the use of a federal marketing agreement to oversee the safety of leafy greens. It asserts that assuring the safety of leafy greens is the job of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and that that agency should more vigorously address the problem.
“Marketing orders were not established to address food safety, and are not an appropriate means for doing so,” Odabashian wrote. “Lawmakers must act decisively and immediately to give FDA and USDA mandatory recall authority to remove tainted food from the marketplace.”
Consumers Union points out that the California Leafy Green Marketing Agreement was recently put into effect in that state to monitor the safety of leafy greens in the wake of last year’s deadly spinach E. coli outbreak that sickened 205 and killed three across 26 states. In an attempt to shore up consumer confidence and to avoid being regulated from outside, the California leafy green industry—heavily influenced by Dole and other major players—developed its own best practices guidelines and trace-back systems behind closed doors and without public comment. The industry appointed itself as the safety oversight board, including some of the very companies, such as Dole, which have been accused of marketing contaminated leafy greens. The resulting marketing agreement, which is voluntary, was presented as the panacea for the safety of leafy greens. Odabashian noted, “But if not all leafy greens in the marketplace are subject to the same safety standards, and if Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) are not required on every farm and Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) programs are not required at every processing facility, the door remains open for contaminated produce to reach consumers.”
Consumers Union believes that Congress should establish a single food safety agency to ensure better safety of leafy greens, with substantial resources to hire more inspectors and enforce required GAPs and HACCP programs at processing facilities.
“Until the highest safety standards are rigorously enforced by a single agency that has robust, mandatory authority to inspect produce, farms and processors, and recall contaminated leafy greens from the marketplace, consumers and industry will continue to be harmed by tainted food,” Odabashian concluded.