IRVINE, Calif. -- Western Growers officials today applauded the certification of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement by the California Department of Food and Agriculture as another important step in the fresh produce industry's efforts to enhance food safety and regain consumer confidence.

Certification of the agreement paves the way for appointment of a Marketing Agreement Board and additional steps to improve food safety, including the adoption of enhanced specific food safety procedures in the form of a Good Agriculture Practices document.

"We are extremely pleased with the progress made in joint efforts to enhance food safety and respond to the food safety crisis which began in September," said Tom Nassif, president and CEO of Western Growers. "The certification of the Marketing Agreement is another milestone in what has become an intense and timely response to consumers' call for action. The message has been heard and we are responding."

The California Leafy Green Marketing Agreement will require handlers of leafy greens produce, which includes spinach and 12 other commodities, to accept produce only from those growers who follow specific food safety procedures. The State of California will oversee and enforce the agreement. State authorized inspectors will certify that procedures are being followed and a certification seal, or "mark," will be designated and affixed to product to confirm compliance with the Marketing Agreement.

"We are proceeding to dramatically boost food safety in the fresh produce industry and we hope these efforts, and others, point the way for further action as we proceed," said Nassif. "This is just a first step. There will be others. Our top priority is the health and safety of the people who consume our product. This action, and others, represents the industry's commitment to take substantial action to address the cracks in our food safety system.

"We have stated that we intend to declare war on food borne illnesses. This is a substantial step on our path to fulfill that commitment to American consumers."

Western Growers is an agriculture trade association whose members grow, pack and ship about half of the nation's fresh produce.

SOURCE Western Growers via PR Newswire.