IRVINE, Calif. -- Western Growers today announced that it will take action to initiate a California Marketing Agreement and a Marketing Order that establish mandatory Good Agriculture Practices that strengthen spinach and leafy green food safety procedures.

The action by the Western Growers Board of Directors would also include the initiation of a federal marketing order to develop comprehensive and mandatory national spinach and leafy green food safety standards.

The effect of these actions, when completed, will be to impose enhanced and mandatory food safety processes on all aspects of growing, packing, processing and shipping of spinach and leafy greens. Enforcement and process verification will be overseen by state and federal government regulatory agencies.

"Our industry is at a crossroads," said Tom Nassif, president and CEO of Western Growers. "The consuming public, lawmakers, state and federal government agencies as well as our members want greater assurances that the healthy, fresh produce we provide is safe. The actions approved by our board of directors will help ensure that improved food safety standards are universally understood and adhered to."

Federal marketing orders are administered by the Agricultural Marketing Service of the USDA. State marketing agreements and orders are administered by the California Department of Food and Agriculture's Market Enforcement Branch. Marketing orders and marketing agreements are state or federal regulatory programs that can include mandatory inspections, process verification, food safety research, methods of growing, harvesting and handling and, ultimately, sanctions for non-compliance.

"In this case, the state and federal marketing order will be used to put teeth into food safety practices and guidelines by making them mandatory and by imposing sanctions on those who do not follow those guidelines," said Nassif. "This is a very specific and substantial action by Western Growers. Businesses are not accustomed to proposing that they be subjected to mandated government guidelines. However, our members' ultimate goal is to protect the health and safety of the families who consume our products."

In addition, Western Growers has formed a close working relationship with other association partners: the Produce Marketing Association, United Fresh Produce Association, Grower Shipper Association of Central California and the California Farm Bureau Federation.

"We were very pleased by the reactions of our association partners to our proposed plan to develop mandatory good agricultural practices and to initiate mandatory marketing orders at the state and federal levels. We have encouraged them to ask their respective boards to support our actions," said Nassif.

Western Growers is an agriculture trade association whose members grow, pack and ship 90 percent of the fresh fruits, nuts and vegetables grown in California and seventy five percent of those commodities in Arizona. This totals about half of the nation's fresh produce.

SOURCE: Western Growers via PR Newswire.