California Ag Secretary Honored with Golden Checkmark Award

It’s not often that a group of farmers comes to the government asking to be regulated. But in the aftermath of the 2006 E. coli outbreak associated with spinach, that is exactly what was needed to help California leafy greens producers regain consumer confidence.

Last week the California leafy greens community met in Salinas to recognize those responsible for creating the unique public-partnership formed ten years ago under the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement.  The California Department of Food and Agriculture was most certainly a key player in the creation of the LGMA. In honor of the support which existed at CDFA in 2006 and continues today, the LGMA presented Secretary Karen Ross with our Golden Checkmark Award.

The LGMA’s Golden Checkmark Award is given to those who support mandatory government oversight of food safety in the produce industry. Past recipients include Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and former CDFA Secretary A.G. Kawamura along with several members of the leafy greens industry and some influential buyers who have supported us by requiring LMGA certification for their leafy greens suppliers.

In presenting the award to Secretary Ross, LGMA Chairman Steve Church noted that the LGMA is a true public-private partnership where government and industry work together to ensure safe food.

When recieving the award Secretary Ross stated “I’m so proud to be here today and I want to recognize all of the great people who came before me and who are still at the department of food and agriculture who helped create the LGMA. I can only imagine the hours that were spent to come up with this food safety program that is real, robust and represents change.”

Since its creation ten years ago, the LGMA has included a system of mandatory government audits to verify that leafy greens are being grown using science-based food safety practices. The audits are performed by government inspectors employed by CDFA who are trained and licensed by the United States Department of Agriculture.

“I am always in awe when I see what the leafy greens community has done with this program.  You have transformed an industry to establish a culture where everyone is thinking about how to make sure the food we’re delivering is safe. What you have accomplished in a remarkably short period should be held up as an example.”

-California Secretary of Agriculture, Karen Ross

This is an interesting comment since CDFA will be responsible for overseeing implementation of the Produce Safety Rule included under the new Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).  The huge job of bringing an estimated 20,000 California produce farms into compliance with this new law is being accomplished under a cooperative agreement between CDFA and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

According to Ross, her department plans to work closely with existing industry groups like the LGMA to ensure compliance with the new law beginning in 2018.  As such, the LGMA will likely be one of the first commodity groups to be recognized as FSMA compliant. We have been working over the past several months to ensure our food safety practices are aligned with those required under the FSMA Produce Safety Rule.  You’ll be hearing much more about this topic in the coming weeks.

The LGMA values immensely our relationship with CDFA. The award presented to Secretary Ross last week is meant to demonstrate our appreciation of the department’s continued support. Since it has from the beginning, this industry has willingly invited government regulators onto farms to help verify leafy greens are being grown safely. Over the last ten years CDFA has performed more than 5,000 audits of California leafy greens farms.  Together, LGMA is working with government to protect public health. This commitment has created a culture of food safety that is now ingrained in the farming of California leafy greens.  Congratulations, Secretary Ross and thank you for all you’ve done to support the LGMA.

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