June 18, 2008

In Today's Issue:

When Doing Our Best Isn’t Good Enough
The investigation of the Salmonella outbreak associated with tomatoes drags on. This has been one of the most frustrating experiences of my produce career, but that still must pale in comparison to the emotions of hundreds if not thousands of you who are actually working every day to supply tomatoes to the public. Whether grower, packer, repacker, broker, distributor, restaurant or supermarket, all are grappling with a crisis you didn’t cause, but one for which you will pay dearly. For me, I’m frustrated not because government or industry is inept or has dropped the ball; I’m frustrated because everyone I know is doing their absolute best and that’s still not good enough.  That demands a new paradigm.

This is why United Fresh Produce Association and Produce Marketing Association sent a joint letter this week to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services urging a new commitment to find solutions to streamline outbreak identification, traceback investigations, and adopt sound crisis management systems before an outbreak occurs.  Please read our letter and let me know of any suggestions you have.  This will not be a short term endeavor, but we must demand a new comprehensive approach to minimize both the human and economic impact of an outbreak such as this.  The tomato supply chain has probably lost more than $100 million in this episode.  But I fear that without change, we stand to lose not just short-term revenues, but our entire industry’s future to a generation of consumers who fear fresh produce, rather than embrace it.  To put it simply – doing our best thus far is not good enough.  We must do better, and I ask for your support and advice as we all work together to tackle these tough issues ahead.

  Tom Stenzel
  United Fresh President and CEO

Employment Verification Could Burden Produce Companies
In an unusual twist, a proposed new regulation for government contractors could end up affecting any produce company that sells product to government agencies directly, and even those who sell to government contractors.  A new regulation proposed June 12 would require government contractors and subcontractors to use the E-Verify system to check the legal immigration status of their employees.  Enrollment in E-Verify is currently voluntary.  However, as Robert Guenther, senior vice president at United Fresh points out, if the rule is passed as proposed, produce companies with federal contracts would have to use the E-Verify system to verify legal status of all employees who perform work on the federal contract, regardless of whether the employees are new or existing hires. This would mark the first time that government requires large numbers of workers to be re-verified through the E-Verify database, even though they are not changing jobs and have already been verified through the I-9 process.  United Fresh will be working to prevent the regulation from being finalized.  For more details, contact Robert at 202-303-3400 ext. 409.

WPPC To Feature Top Congressional Leaders
If you care about how food safety and nutrition policy affect the produce industry, sign up today for this year’s Washington Public Policy Conference (WPPC), September 10-12.  You’ll hear from Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee Collin Peterson (D-MN) and Agriculture Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) as they address critical issues to your business.  Known as the architect of the 2008 Farm Bill, Peterson will share his perspective on the Farm Bill debate and what it means to the future of the fruit and vegetable industry.  DeLauro is one of the leading advocates in Congress for both stronger food safety laws and increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables.  The state of our industry will be greatly affected by the intersection of these two goals, which come together in Congresswoman DeLauro’s committee.  Register today online, or contact our Grassroots and Policy Manager Angela Bezon at 202-303-3400 ext. 416.

Meet Your Staff, Tressie Tillar
Washington, D.C. native Tressie Tillar tried living in Florida for a while but ended up coming back to the Nation’s Capital. “I love the city too much and the D.C. area is home for me,” says Tressie. As Accounting Assistant, Tressie processes all incoming revenues, often talking with members about dues, exhibit sales and sponsorships, something she considers “the favorite part of my job.” She also has responsibility for helping maintain smooth and efficient office operations. Tressie has been a part of the United Fresh team for four years.

When not working at the office, Tressie enjoys spending time with her six children, “exercising” on the Wii, and traveling.  In fact, she and her husband take a trip once a year to a relaxing beach location.  Tressie also collects anything having to do with Winnie the Pooh.  When you come to the office, you’ll know that the coffee mug with Pooh and Piglet can only belong to one person.  And her favorite fruit or vegetable?  “Watermelon, of course, and corn and fried cabbage- I love the stuff!”

Tressie is one of many United Fresh staff members working on your behalf every day.  At United Fresh, we are proud to serve our members and the industry. Feel free to contact us anytime at 202-303-3400.

United Fresh Hosts PAC Event for Congressman Tim Mahoney
Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, Florida Citrus Mutual, Florida Farm Bureau Federation, and the National Potato Council joined United Fresh in hosting a fundraiser at United headquarters last night for Rep. Tim Mahoney, a first-term Democrat serving Florida’s 16th Congressional District. Congressman Mahoney is the only member of Florida’s Congressional delegation to serve on the House Committee on Agriculture, and thus was very influential in ensuring that fruit and vegetable industry priorities were included in the Farm Bill. At the PAC event, Congressman Mahoney praised the efforts of House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, shared stories of his experiences working through the Farm Bill process, and provided attendees with his strong views on how to solve the immigration challenge. “Congressman Mahoney is an industry ally, and United Fresh is committed to doing what we can to ensure he continues to serve in Congress,” said Robert Guenther, United Fresh senior vice president of public policy. For more information, contact Robert at 202-303-3409.

Leadership Class 14 Learns, Networks & Grows with Kick-off in California
The first day with the leadership class is always my favorite – the group is still a bit inhibited, unsure of what to expect, but eager and excited. Last week United Fresh launched the 14th year of the Produce Industry Leadership Program sponsored by DuPont Crop Protection by bringing together the 12 new members of Class 14 for a weeklong learning experience through Central and Northern California. Education Program Manager Beth Berman and I joined the new class in Salinas, engaging in intense leadership development and public speaking training, and later visiting with United Fresh members Monterey Mushrooms, Driscoll’s, Ocean Mist Farms, Mann Packing, and Earthbound Farm. The class learned about key issues impacting the Salinas Valley while networking with local industry leaders at the United Fresh Western Regional Office, including Jim Bogart, Grower-Shipper Association of Central California; Mary Ziske, California Leafy Greens Research Program, and Kurt Gollnick, Scheid Vineyards, Inc.  Special thanks to California Giant Berry Farms and Ocean Mist Farms for hosting a warm welcome reception in Watsonville for the new class. 

From Salinas, we departed for the Central Valley to tour Kingsburg Orchards, Sam's Club, Fowler Packing, and Blue Diamond Growers.  We were greeted in Visalia at a reception hosted by Leadership Alumni Organization Chairman Sheri Mierau, president of the California Tree Fruit Agreement, and leadership alumnus Phil Herbig, WES Pak Sales.  The class concluded the weeklong program with two days of customized education at the University of California, Davis (Go Aggies!), including a presentation by UC Davis and former United Fresh staff member Dr. James Gorny.  The week was full of new experiences and information.  Each class member came to the group with their own unique perspectives and knowledge, and it was rewarding to see each one break out of their comfort zones to experience different aspects of the produce industry.

Class 14 will meet again this September 10-12 at United Fresh’s Washington Public Policy Conference.  The Leadership Program is presented by the United Fresh Research & Education Foundation and is made possible through a generous grant from DuPont Crop Protection, sponsor of the program since its inception in 1995.  For more information, give me a shout!

Victoria Backer
Senior Vice President, Member Services

News and Views

FDA’s Performance is Questioned
The Washington Post reports on last Thursday’s House Energy and Commerce Committee Hearing during which FDA was criticized for its slow progress on improving food safety.

Second Time is a Charm
The Washington Post reports that the House is likely to override President Bush’s veto on the Farm Bill…for the second time.

In Midwest Floods, a Broad Threat to Crops
Recently, the New York Times reported that the Midwest is experiencing repetitive flooding that is damaging crops.  Iowa’s total grain loss is at 20 percent and is expected to increase with the chance of more rain. 

Fruits, vegetables risky to eat if touched by floodwaters
According to the StarPress, fruits and vegetables that experience flooding should not be eaten or sold because they could be contaminated.  

Choose light foods for energy and nutrition
Summer is here! According to the Herald, a way to cope with the summer's heat is eating lighter foods – like fruits and vegetables - that provide energy and nutrition.