In September 2006, many truckers, including some OOIDA
members, were stuck with the financial and logistical responsibilities of
disposing of potentially contaminated spinach. Some were not paid for their
loads of spinach that weren't even part of the recall, because no regulations
are in place to protect truckers in situations where produce has been recalled.
Although there appears to be agreement in the produce
industry that new food safety standards need to be developed to prevent future
E.coli outbreaks, no one seems to be able to agree on whether the industry
should be allowed to regulate itself.
Still reeling from that E. coli outbreak - which sickened
more than 200 people and left three dead - large supermarket chains sent
California growers a letter strongly "urging" growers to clean up their act in
order to boost consumers' confidence in leafy greens.
On Jan. 24, the California Department of Food and
Agriculture announced sign-ups for the state's 135 produce handlers in the
state interested in participating in a voluntary marketing agreement for leafy
greens. The proposed marketing agreement is a collaborative effort by the
Western Growers Association and the CDFA.
In return for participating in the marketing agreement, a
seal of approval or a "certification mark" would go on produce sold by handlers
taking part in the agreement. Enforcement power would jointly fall to
inspectors in the CDFA and the USDA, according to Steve Lyle, a CDFA spokesman.
"We currently have 20 inspectors that have undergone
training and will have another 10 trained in the next few weeks," he said.
In a separate move on Jan. 25, United Fresh Produce
Association President Thomas Stenzel sent a letter to California Secretary of
Agriculture A.G. Kawamura that said the United Fresh Produce Association plans
to "pursue comprehensive federal oversight of all fresh produce."
This, Stenzel said in the letter, "would go a long way to
building and maintaining public confidence in our products by adopting strong
and rigorous standards such as those planned in the leafy greens agreement."
Joe Rajkovacz, regulatory affairs specialist for OOIDA, said
the state marketing agreement is at best "a face-saving gesture by an industry
motivated by legal and economic concerns," but agreed with Stenzel's statement
to Secretary Kawamura that federal oversight is necessary to regulate the
produce industry from "farm to table."
"Federal oversight would recognize more players within the
food chain than just the growers themselves, and would hold more entities
responsible for food safety practices within the food chain," Rajkovacz said.
"You can't let an industry regulate itself - that's like putting the fox in
charge of the henhouse."
- By Clarissa Kell-Holland,