February 27, 2008

In Today's Issue:

Small Steps to Big Changes in U.S. Agricultural Policy
I had the honor last week to represent our fruit and vegetable industry speaking at the opening general session of this year's USDA Agricultural Outlook Forum.  Not only was it an honor to follow new Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer and other USDA leaders, this was one of the rare times our fruit and vegetable policy agenda was presented on the main stage in front of 1,700 ag leaders instead of back in our traditional workshop for 50 people.  I did have to joke with the audience though that the panoramic backdrop highlighting beautiful scenes of American agriculture still left out fruits and vegetables!

Being invited to speak in this high profile spot is testament to the advances we're making in this year's Farm Bill, and ag policy in general.  I promise you whatever we finally achieve in this year's Farm Bill won't be a "once and done" event, but the first of many more steps to help grow opportunity for our industry and better health for our customers. 

But let's think for a minute about some big steps ahead.  I listened in awe to the changes permeating agriculture today with the growth of ethanol for biofuels.  Hundreds of ethanol and biofuels plants dot the country and corn prices to farmers are higher than ever, as they increase production to keep up with the demand.   Fuel has now joined food, fiber and feed as an essential part of agricultural policy.  So, with some fear of being labeled part heretic I told this audience I truly believe the next major ag policy breakthrough will be health, as we finally begin to understand and shape agriculture's role in improving public health.

Just like the Government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans, energy policy officials also set goals for biofuels to lessen the nation's dependence on oil.  But these became more than goals in a book on a shelf; they are the way our Dietary Guidelines often seem to be.  Energy goals became real business incentives for producers, companies and investors willing to build ethanol plants and tackle the infrastructure of a new industry.  Energy goals became mandates for oil companies to blend ethanol in gasoline, and for automobile companies to develop cars using these new fuels.  Bottom line, our country saw a critical need for renewable fuels to lower the costs of energy from oil, and we invested in actually achieving our goals.  What a novel thought for public health!

So, do you believe we can bring that same national commitment to public health, when traditionally government just seems to accept massive failure to meet dietary goals?  Is the threat to our children's health and the crisis in health care costs any less critical than the energy crisis?  I want my kids to drive cleaner cars with less dependence on foreign oil, but I also want them to learn to make healthier food choices for a lifetime that can exceed mine in length and quality. 

So, we'll keep taking the small steps to reform ag policy, but let's not lose sight of the big goals either.  We have to literally change the way America eats by doubling consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables.  Maybe we can learn a few lessons from our friends in the biofuels industry about the power of government incentives, mandates and a real commitment to change instead of just lip service.

Food Safety Hearings Continue in Congress
Yesterday, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Investigation and Oversight held Contaminated Food: Private Sector Accountability, the fifth food safety hearing this year.  This hearing chaired by Congressman Bart Stupak (D-MI) included CEOs from major food companies, including ConAgra Foods, Butterball Turkeys and Bumble Bee Foods.  On behalf of the produce industry, Dole’s President and CEO David DeLorenzo did an excellent job testifying about important steps the industry has taken since the spinach outbreak in fall 2006.  Focusing his remarks on the industry’s decisive actions leading to the California Leafy Green Marketing Agreement, Mr. DeLorenzo emphasized the importance of a strong traceability program and the critical need for a public-private partnership to approaching fresh produce food safety research.  I would recommend you check out a video of this hearing, as it was one of the more lively debates we have seen between Members of Congress and the food industry.  For more details, please contact Robert Guenther, United Fresh senior vice president, public policy.

FDA Finalizes Fresh-cut Guidance Document
The FDA finalized, without change, the March 2007 “Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards of Fresh-cut Fruits and Vegetables,” that provides food processors details on how to best apply mandatory Good Manufacturing Practices, specifically to fresh-cut fruits and vegetables.  The guide complements the FDA’s regulations of good manufacturing practices and suggests fresh-cut processors use safety programs, such as the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP), which are designed to prevent, eliminate or reduce microbial, chemical and physical hazards associated with food production.  Recommendations are also provided on record keeping, recalls and tracebacks, personal health and equipment and operations.  For more information, please contact Dr. David Gombas at 202-303-3400 ext. 411.

One Step Closer to Assuring Fresh Produce Traceability
The Produce Traceability Initiative has moved one step closer to accomplishing a process that assures fresh produce traceability. Previously, a forty-member Steering Committee on the Initiative of produce buyers, distributors and suppliers agreed that a universal language for external traceability is important and should be implemented throughout the fresh produce supply chain. Last week, United Fresh, PMA and CPMA convened the second meeting of the Steering Committee in Atlanta to discuss ways to overcome obstacles in navigating fundamental change for the produce industry. The Steering Committee is expected to meet again in April. For more information about the Produce Traceability Initiative, please contact Dr. David Gombas, senior vice president for food safety and technology.

Farm Bill Negotiations Continue
As Congress returns from a week long district work period, negotiations among the Senate, House, and Administration on Farm Bill funding levels and the final details of a bill continue this week. Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee Collin Peterson (D-MN) told reporters on Sunday that this was the most optimistic he has been all year and the leaders are very close to “nailing stuff down.” Meanwhile, Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee Tom Harkin (D-IA) stated, “at this time an extension of the present Farm Bill is probably the most likely scenario.” Harkin blamed the current Administration for the stalemate and is less reluctant to compromise with the Administration’s push for reform because the Senate passed a veto proof farm bill. For us in produce, it is important that a bill be signed into law and we do not see an extension of the current Farm Bill, which was passed in 2002. However, any bill agreed upon must include our top policy priorities related to pest and disease, research, specialty crop block grants and the fruit and vegetable snack program. The next couple of days will be critical in this discussion to see if a deal on the Farm Bill can be reached. For more information, please contact Robert Guenther, 202-303-3409.

Leading Workshops at the National Watermelon Convention
Last week, United Fresh staff members Dave Gombas, senior vice president of food safety and technology and Autumn Veazey, director of legislative affairs joined over 500 members of the National Watermelon Association at their 94th Annual Watermelon Convention in Orange Beach, Alabama. Dave led a food safety workshop for watermelon growers, shippers, packers, and distributors, while Autumn led a Farm Bill workshop on key program authorized and expanded in the current and drafted 2007 bills. “I was thrilled to find many members were interested in promoting specific farm bill programs, such as the Specialty Crop Competitiveness Grants and the Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program, said Autumn. For more information, please contact Autumn Veazey, 202-303-3427.

What’s New at United Fresh, Las Vegas 2008
Do you want to save time searching for what’s new at this year’s United FreshTech and Marketplace tradeshows in Las Vegas? Well, it’s simple:
Taking a few minutes now to pre-review exhibitors’ latest ideas and technologies to help you improve your bottom line. And, if you haven’t already registered for the show, click here; it’s only 67 days away!

Produce Excellence in the Culinary Arts
We are telling chefs and foodservice companies around the country that the produce industry appreciates what they do to help increase consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables by honoring them with the United Fresh Research & Education Foundation’s Produce Excellence in Foodservice Awards.  Thanks to a major grant from Pro*Act LLC, this new awards program will debut at the Annual Awards Banquet during United Fresh, Las Vegas 2008.  Let us get the honoring underway; submit a nomination form, or contact Amy Philpott, 202-303-3400 ext. 425 for more information.

Produce Quality Inspection Training Backed by USDA-AMS

Produce industry receivers, handlers, buyers, shippers and sellers can learn the fundamentals of the USDA produce quality inspection process with the United Fresh Research & Education Foundation’s June Produce Inspection Training Program.  This training, in partnership with U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Marketing Services is developed into two specialized courses that offers a comprehensive overview of USDA inspection procedures and standards through lab training courses, classroom lectures and discussion sessions with USDA trainers.  Members can now register for the June training program by clicking here or contacting Beth Berman, education manager, at 202-303-3400 ext. 405.

United Fresh Staff Meets with USDA Undersecretary
Earlier this week, Dr. Lorelei DiSogra met with Undersecretary Nancy Johner and other senior officials in the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service. The discussion focused on many issues critically important to increasing children’s fruit and vegetable consumption, including the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program, WIC and school meals. Lorelei emphasized in the meeting “now that every state has received some funding for the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack program, it’s important to strengthen collaboration and provide technical training to ensure the program is effectively implemented.” For more information, contact Lorelei DiSogra, 202-303-3403.

South Texas Welcomes Leadership Class 13
Class 13 of the United Fresh Produce Industry Leadership Program headed to McAllen, Texas on February 21-24 for an in-depth exploration of Texas agriculture.  The trip kicked off with a welcome reception hosted by Texas Produce Association president, John McClung, who was joined by local leaders, to welcome the class to McAllen.  The class then toured the region, with a stop at the Pharr Border to meet with officials from the Department of Homeland Security and witness how fresh produce is imported into the U.S. from Mexico.  Finally, the class visited the local production area, meeting with United Fresh members including Frontera Produce, J&D Produce, Texas Citrus Exchange, Rio Queen, H-E-B Grocery Store, Lone Star Citrus Growers, and Duda Farm Fresh Foods.  And during the trip, the Class 13 benefited from a special educational session on retaining the best and brightest employees, led leadership alumnus Jerry Butt, vice president of MIXTEC Group, who led the “We’d like to extend a special thanks to all of our Texas members who were so gracious during our visit to South Texas,” said Beth Berman, United Fresh education manager. The class will convene once more for their graduation ceremony at the United Fresh, Las Vegas 2008 Show in Las Vegas.  Applications for the 2008 Leadership Program, sponsored by DuPont Crop Protection are being accepted until March 17, 2008.  Interested candidates can find more information here, or contact Beth Berman, 202-303-3405.

Inside Industry Leaders
Inside United Fresh is our new weekly e-newsletter devoted to Connecting the Business of Produce.  Sentevery Wednesday to more than 10,000 produce industry members, Inside United Fresh replaces the former Friday Week In Review to provide the latest in what United Fresh Produce Association is doing for the Produce Industry: laws and regulations, business opportunities, education and training, food safety, leadership development and executive-level produce education, to name just a few of our programs and services.  Inside United Fresh now offers a monthly advertising opportunity for you to promote what you do best to our readers.  Linking your brand with United Fresh demonstrates your commitment to influencing this great industry, while driving your messaging home!  If you have a serious message for the produce industry, Inside United Fresh provides serious content that is not only opened, but read by leaders across the industry.  For more information click here, or contact John Toner.

New Member Welcome
Each week, United Fresh welcomes its newest partners in building a stronger produce industry:

United Fresh thanks all members for their dedication to the association and the produce industry. Please let us know whenever we can be of service to you.  For more details about the benefits of membership, please contact Jeff Oberman.

News & Views
Project Peel
South Asian Focus speaks of a new initiative for the community that involves using land around public institutions to grow ethnic produce.

The Corn Genome
A group of Washington University researchers will announce they have mapped the genome sequence of the corn plant, according to CNNMoney.com

Heightened Need for Awareness
The FoodNavigator.com stresses he results of a survey showing consumers less concerned about the complete nutrition and safety of food reinforces the need for awareness-raising initiatives.

Not the Best of Intentions
The Star-Ledger reports of one man’s plans to set up a wholesale business to purchase produce on credit, with no intention of paying creditors back.

A New Use for Ice Removal
Beet juice, say WCTV-TV is being tested by the Ohio Department of Transportation as a way to remove ice and snow from the roadways.

Can’t Please All the People, All the Time
Health care advocates are overjoyed about New York City’s plans to bring 1,000 new fruit cart vendors to poor neighborhoods, but supermarkets owners and grocers are not, writes The New York Sun.

Acai for Antioxidants
DallasNews.com shares, Acai berries have been thought of as the next brain food since research by Tufts University and the USDA saw the berries slow age-related memory loss in rats.

Dr. Broccoli
One doctor has big plans to develop farmers markets at Kaiser Permanente medical center and bring fresh produce into hospitals, announces The Fresno Bee.