POP Comments Submitted to the USDA on Leafy Greens Regs

Friday, July 29, 2011 @ 05:07 PM
posted by Mik and Rudi

Comment Submission:  Proposed Rulemaking on Federal Leafy Green Vegetable Marketing RegsReference Docket Number: [Doc. No. AO–FV–09–0138; AMS–FV–09–0029; FV09–970–1]

The POP Campaign (Preserve Organic Power), a voice of hundreds of thousands of consumers and families across this country, adamantly opposes the USDA’s proposed rulemaking to create a Federal Leafy Green Vegetable Marketing Regulation.  This rulemaking is neither needed nor desired.  The Federal government has in recent years enacted so many new laws to promote food safety, which in addition to the regulations that are already in place both at the Federal and State level, are sufficient to promote safer foods and processes.  Another layer simply does not make common sense nor is it cost effective; rather cost prohibitive. During these economic times, families in particular are being hit hard – and families are the basic fabric of a healthy America – we support regulations that help these families, not hinder their stability and foundational health.

Other Regulations Already Exist

State Regulations: As stated by the USDA, 90% or more of the leafy green vegetables grown in the United States are gown in California and Arizona both of whom have Leafy Green Marketing Agreements in place.  There is no need to implement yet another federal standard on the small farmers across the other 48 states.  Additionally, most producers of leafy green vegetables in the other states likely sell their products locally or intra-state to a neighboring state.

For farmers in California and Arizona, this new Federal agreement would provide an unreasonable additional layer of bureaucracy and costs, which will only drive the costs of leafy green vegetables higher.  As a Californian, I personally do not want this added burden. Americans, especially moms with families who we hear from, are already bearing the burden of substantially higher food costs during a time with high unemployment rates, skyrocketing fuel costs, and higher costs of living across the board.  This is not a time to bleed these families.

Federal Guidelines Already Exist

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) already has in place two guidelines and is in the final stages of a leafy green specific guideline.  These guidelines, listed below are sufficient instruction at the Federal level.

The FDA currently has Good Agricultural Practice Guidelines including

  1. ‘‘Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables’’(1998), and the
  2. ‘‘Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Fresh-cut Fruits and Vegetables’’ (2008).
  3. A new FDA Guideline entitled, ‘‘Commodity Specific Food Safety Guidelines for Lettuce and Leafy Greens Supply Chain’’ is in the process of being finalized.

Furthermore, the FDA has a mandatory Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) regulation for manufacturers of fresh-cut leafy green vegetables.

Cost for Participation Presents an Undue Burden

As mentioned above, there are substantial costs associated with implementing this program.  These costs pose an unreasonable burden for both the farmer and the consumer, especially moms in this country.

  • The USDA estimates that the cost per acre to become initially compliant will be $14-34 per acre.
  • The USDA published two estimates for the annual cost of compliance:
    • $30-50 per acre
    • $48-105 per acre
    • Additionally, in California and Arizona, there would be additional costs for complying with the state marketing agreements. (This means even higher costs at the markets.)
    • Most small farms that produce leafy green vegetables also qualify as ‘handlers’ because they often market their products directly to consumer or to local markets.  The USDA provided that evidence shows that a small handler who is also a small producer would have audit verification or compliance related costs ranging from $67 to $95 per acre.  (For example, a 500 acre farm might incur greater than $45,000 up front and an additional $50,000 annually to become compliant. Most small farms likely cannot bear this burden and the higher costs will make them less competitive in the marketplace.)

Additionally, the fees required in the program will not cover the entire cost of managing this program. Guess what –the taxpayer and families will bear additional costs annually in the USDA budget and the consumer trickle down.

Organic Farms Are Already Heavy Regulated – make an exception

As provided by the USDA[1]:  An increasing number of U.S. farmers are adopting these systems in order to lower input costs, conserve nonrenewable resources, capture high-value markets, and boost farm income. The Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 already facilitates domestic marketing of organically produced fresh and processed food, and assures consumers that such products meet consistent, uniform standards. USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) finalized a rule to implement this legislation in 2002.  All but the smallest organic farmers and processors must be certified by a State or private agency accreditation under national standards. The program establishes:

  • National production and handling standards for organically produced products, including a National List of substances that can and cannot be used.
  • A national-level accreditation program for State and private organizations who must be accredited as certifying agents under the USDA national standards for organic certifiers.
  • Requirements for labeling products as organic and containing organic ingredients.
  • Rules for importation of organic agricultural products from foreign programs.

One possibility is to exempt organic farmers and small growers

Driving the Costs Up Will Reduce Access

The Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Program of the USDA which Senator Tom Harkin has been a big supporter of, is the type of activity USDA should focus on, not the creation of a new monitoring program.  The Fresh Fruits and Vegetable Program funds the delivery of fresh fruits and vegetables to children in schools, especially to low-income children who might not otherwise have the opportunity to consume fresh produce.  Driving the costs higher only undermines this program and the goals of families everywhere who are struggling to stay afloat in these challenging times and still provide their families with fresh produce including leafy green vegetables.

Food prices across the board are skyrocketing, and vegetables are among the foods that have risen the greatest, up 50% from a year ago. Conservatively, 68% of women in this country cite that the financial strain of the economy is threatening the American family; 52% of women with children under the age of 18 are feeling a huge overwhelm by financial burdens. Moms are saying “stop; help us”.

The POP Campaign strongly urges the USDA to terminate this proposed program and focus instead on promoting organic, sustainable farmers and farming which will provide higher quality foods for the American consumer, especially economically burdened moms and families.

[1] http://www.ers.usda.gov/features/organic/organicfarming.htm

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