The California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement Board will hold its first meeting today, Friday, the 23rd of February.
It remains unclear who has signed up and who has not. Dole has announced that it has signed the agreement; Fresh Express has announced that it does not intend to sign. The State has come out with numbers that simply make no sense and has refused to explain its methodology.
Retail response has been mixed. Wegmans and Kroger have notified suppliers that they intend to buy California Leafy Greens solely from signatories of the agreement. Safeway has told suppliers that it can’t reconcile that position with its overall relationship with Chiquita, the parent company of Fresh Express.
There seems to be some confusion regarding precisely what the agreement requires in terms of food safety. To clarify: It never requires anyone to reduce the quality of their food safety program; it simply provides a baseline program.
We fully expect that many buyers will establish their own, more rigorous, standards and that many growers will have to go beyond the baseline in order to be certified to sell to various buyers.
Among the signatories of the agreement, there is a little bit of concern that retailers have not leapt to announce that they are restricting their supply chain by agreeing to buy only from signatories to the agreement. The agreement is expensive, both to implement the standards that are likely to be approved and to pay the assessment. The signers are afraid of getting stuck with the bill, without getting support from the buying community.
On the other hand, it has become increasingly obvious that the marketing component of the agreement is a colossal mistake.
If this was simply an agreement to follow a baseline food safety program, participation would be less in question. But the agreement has a marketing component:
ADVERTISING AND SALES PROMOTION
Pursuant to Food and Agricultural Code section 58889, the Agreement may advertise and promote consumer recognition of the Official Mark and its meaning.
QUALITY IMPROVEMENT AND EDUCATION PROGRAM
Pursuant to Food and Agricultural Code section 58893, the Agreement may engage a program of educating the public and producers concerning the Best Practices.
Basically the Agreement contemplates spending the assessment on a marketing program to tell everyone that leafy greens with the logo are safe and that consumers should look for the logo.
A top priority of the advisory board must be to disavow this language. Not one penny should be spent promoting this seal. In an industry where half the year the product comes from Yuma and there are plants all over the country, product often contains ingredients from other states and other countries. This marketing campaign will wind up scaring more consumers off our products than reassuring them.
Until the board disavows this marketing program, we can certainly understand people not wanting their money to go to fund a campaign to urge people to buy items with a seal that the growers or processors do not intend to use on their products.
As far as retailers go, since the Good Agricultural Practices haven’t even been adopted yet, it is premature for any buyer to say the GAPs are sufficient. However all buyers should pledge, no matter who or where they buy from, they will not buy product that is grown and processed to food safety standards lower than that called for in the GAP metrics that will soon be adopted.