Leafy-greens growers fear cuts to food-safety program

Source of Article:  http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/local/articles/2009/04/22/20090422politics-greens0422.html


by Steven Flakenhagen - Apr. 22, 2009 12:00 AM
Cronkite News Service

The state budget crisis threatens a program that helps Arizona farmers prevent contamination in lettuce, spinach and other leafy greens, advocates say.

The Arizona Leafy Green Products Shipper Marketing Agreement, also known as Arizona Leafy Greens, is administered by the Arizona Department of Agriculture. It started in September 2007 after California experienced two E. coli outbreaks traced to lettuce and spinach.

"We take food safety very seriously as an industry," said C.R. Waters, a Yuma farmer who serves as the program's

Funded by voluntary assessments to member growers and shippers, the program, which took in about $78,000 this year, sets safety standards for growing leafy greens and brings inspectors from California to assess how farms are meeting those standards.

Waters said members of Arizona Leafy Greens worry about fund sweeps lawmakers have made to address the state's budget deficit. Those sweeps already have cut money from the Agriculture Department's Iceberg Lettuce Research Council, Grain Research and Promotion Council, and Arizona Citrus Research Council, which also are funded by growers.

"The fund sweeps for the 2010 and future budgets are the biggest threat to the viability of the program," Waters said. "People will be hesitant to put money into a fund if it's going to be used for something other than its intended purpose."

Arizona growers provide 75 percent of the leafy-green produce consumed in the United States and Canada from November through March. The $1 billion industry employs about 20,000 workers.

Arizona Leafy Greens helps ensure quality and safety by making sure animals don't get into - or feed too close to - fields and by monitoring water and soil.




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