July 17, 2008

In Today's Issue:

A Message from Chairman Tom Lovelace
The past weeks dealing with the Salmonella outbreak have been among the most difficult ever for many in our industry.  My company, McEntire Produce, has been hit hard as a tomato repacker and processor, as have many of you throughout our Association.  None of us are satisfied with the way the investigation of this outbreak as been handled, and United Fresh is committed to a driving major overhaul of this process in the future.  Let me tell you what we’re working on today:

  • Our first priority is to do all we can to help resolve this crisis and bring the investigation to a close.  The threat to produce sales and consumer confidence will not end until this outbreak is over.
  • We are also working aggressively to get all tomatoes cleared from suspicion.  FDA’s traceback investigation has failed to confirm any connection to tomatoes whatsoever, and no tomatoes in the market today could have been the cause of the outbreak.  Moreover, the tomato growing regions that were in production at the onset of the outbreak have now been out of production for nearly two months, making it virtually impossible for tomatoes from those areas to be associated with illnesses reported in June or July.  It is time for government to remove any warnings about tomatoes.
  • We’re also urging FDA and CDC to complete their investigation of Jalapeño and Serrano peppers as quickly and thoroughly as possible so that either the problem can be identified or, if not, these products can be cleared as well.
  • We're dealing continuously with the media to make sure THE FACTS are reported, not innuendo, although frankly that has been an uphill fight.  For example, some media reports have attacked the effectiveness of tracking back tomatoes, when in fact investigators were able to track tomatoes to multiple different sources.  As Tom Stenzel told the Washington Post today, traceability worked; it just didn't confirm CDC's hypothesis that tomatoes were the cause.
  • Finally, we're working closely with members of Congress and their staffs to forestall any immediate overreaction with misguided legislation, build a strong platform for future reform and provide compensation to our industry for those who may have been unjustly damaged through this event.  I am pleased that our meetings with both House and Senate leaders in the past several weeks have led to both direct communications to FDA and CDC and upcoming Congressional hearings.  [see story below]

I also want to tell you about a meeting I personally participated in with three of our other Board members and several other industry colleagues from the produce, restaurant and supermarket industries.  On Monday, we met with FDA Commissioner Andrew Von Eschenbach and senior FDA and CDC staff at its headquarters near Washington, D.C.  In no small part a reaction to continuing pressure from our industry and Association, including two joint letters we had sent with PMA to FDA, CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services, FDA invited a small group of industry leaders to listen to our views and perspectives on the outbreak and try to help FDA/CDC think "outside the box" to solve this problem as quickly as possible.  While this meeting occurred far too late in the process, it was step in the right direction.

I'd like to thank Board members Mitch Smith, McDonalds; Geoff White, Safeway; and our past chairman Steve Grinstead, Pro*Act; for flying to D.C. on short notice to contribute substantial expertise to this meeting.  Monday’s meeting vividly demonstrated FDA/CDC’s lack of an in-depth understanding of how products move to market within our industry and the need to be more transparent with industry at the onset of an illness outbreak. One of our key messages in the meeting was the need to put in place a standing industry team of experts in multiple commodities, which could be called into action immediately at the first sign of an outbreak. Government simply must involve industry experts at the very beginning in order to rapidly focus and narrow investigations.  We felt that Monday’s meeting was a good first step in helping government officials better understand the skills and resources industry can bring to help. This effort must be followed by fundamental and lasting changes. Your Association is committed to making those changes happen.

We'll certainly have more to talk about this entire event during our upcoming Washington Public Policy Conference, September 10-12.  I invite all of you to register for that important event, and also make plans to participate in either our Produce Industry Town Hall meeting with FDA officials or our personal visits with Congressional leaders during the conference.  These government officials need to hear from you!  I look forward to seeing all of you in D.C. in September.

Tom Lovelace
Executive Vice President, McEntire Produce
United Fresh Chairman of the Board

Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Questions Continued Tomato Warning
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) has written to Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt to express concern about the CDC and FDA’s inability to identify the source of the ongoing Salmonella saintpaul outbreak and the damage this is causing to the tomato industry.  “It seems highly unlikely that tomatoes harvested in April would still be consumed fresh by consumers in late June.  It does not make sense why there remains a strong warning against eating certain fresh tomatoes when most states have been cleared by FDA as having produced tomatoes not implicated in the Salmonella outbreak,” he wrote.  The senator also called on FDA and CDC to “take measures immediately to improve their ability to trace-back products and to improve communications with the public and industry.”  “When we met with Senator Harkin and his staff last week, he already had an appreciation for the challenges industry is facing,” said United Fresh President Tom Stenzel.  “We really appreciate the Comito family at Capital City Fruit in Iowa for keeping their Senator informed and encouraging his support.  Meanwhile, United is continuing to brief leaders in all the key committees with oversight of public health, food safety, and agriculture,” Tom said.  Several Congressional hearings are being considered at this time.

Specialty Crop Research Funding Now a Reality
Based on the passage of the 2008 Farm Bill, USDA announced this week the availability of $28.4 million for specialty crop research this year.  And, that number will climb to $50 million annually beginning next year.  “I can’t imagine a more important achievement for our industry than this concentrated annual research funding going into food safety, technological innovation, and others areas to help improve the fresh fruit and vegetable business,” said Dr. David Gombas, senior vice president for food safety and technology.  “Just think about what $25 million to $50 million a year in targeted research can do for us in getting ahead of the complex food safety issues confronting our industry,” said Robert Guenther, senior vice president for public policy.  “This is a great example of how our members’ investment in the association’s policy efforts here in Washington, D.C. comes back to the industry’s benefit hundreds of times over.”

Don't Miss Deadline for Family Business Scholarships!
Family business employees have less than two weeks left to submit their applications for the 2008 Frieda Rapoport Caplan Family Business Scholarship Program.  The application can be downloaded from United Fresh's website and must be received by July 28, 2008.  This exclusive program awards up to four scholarships for employees of United Fresh member, family-owned businesses to attend United Fresh's Washington Public Policy Conference (WPPC).  The scholarship winners will receive complimentary airfare, hotel, and registration to attend WPPC, September 10-12, 2008 at the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel, Washington, D.C. and will be recognized at the conference.  The Frieda Rapoport Caplan Family Business Scholarship Program was established in 2001 through a generous grant from Frieda's to the United Fresh Research & Education Foundation with a goal to increase family business involvement in government relations and produce industry advocacy.  Applicants for the scholarship must be employed by a family business that is a United Fresh member company in good standing.  For more information about the scholarship program, contact Victoria Backer at 202-303-3408.  For more information about WPPC, or to register, contact United Fresh Government Relations Assistant Andrew Marshall at 202-303-3407

Industry Members Will Meet With FDA at Washington Conference
With so many critical issues at stake, United Fresh Produce is hosting a Town Hall meeting for industry members at this year’s Washington Public Policy Conference, held September 10-12, to meet with U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) officials at the FDA’s headquarters.  The Town Hall meeting will allow industry members to talk with top FDA officials to ask questions and hear their views on all key questions regarding produce safety, outbreak investigations, and regulatory issues.  We’ll also discuss ways in which the industry and government can work together better to assure consumer confidence in the abundant array of safe and healthy fresh fruits and vegetables we bring to consumers.  The FDA Town Hall meeting will be held concurrently with Congressional visits on Thursday afternoon, September 11.  Attendees must register their preference for participating in group Congressional visits, or the FDA Town Hall meeting.  We’ve reserved a large room for this meeting, but space is limited so be sure to register today!

Next Product Recall/Crisis Management Course to Be Held in Los Angeles
The Sheraton Gateway Los Angeles is the destination of the next "Training for a Recall, Communicating Under Fire," presented by the United Fresh Foundation.  This two-day course, scheduled for October 1-2, 2008, will focus on all aspects of a product recall, including the legal liability, working with the FDA, the importance of traceability, and how to apply a crisis communication plan to product recall situations.  This hands-on educational program is designed to bring together industry members throughout the supply chain, from quality assurance directors to marketing directors to CEOs.  In addition to the two-day product recall course, United Fresh is also offering a half-day of media training on October 3.  Taught by communications and public affairs specialists, this course will teach participants the fundamentals of working with the media and how to deliver messages under the pressure of a real-life interview. Separate registration for the media training is required.  Due to the highly interactive nature of the program, attendance at the Recall Course is limited to 40 attendees and attendance at the Media Training is limited to 10.  Past courses have sold-out, so be sure to register today!  For additional registration and housing information, contact United Fresh Education Manager, Beth Berman, at bberman@unitedfresh.org or 202-303-3405.

New Member Welcome
Each week, United Fresh welcomes its newest partners in building a stronger produce industry:
  • Asociación Mexicana de Horticultura, Culiacán, Sinaloa, Mexico
  • Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO
  • Jacobs Farm/Del Cabo, Pescadero, CA
  • Simon & Leeman, Detroit, MI
  • Van Eerden Company, Grand Rapids, MI
United Fresh thanks all current 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, vice president of industry relations.

News & Views
New Arkansas Effort Connecting Farmers, Tourists
According to the Washington Post, Arkansas is encouraging more of its farmers to start giving the tourists a taste of the farm experience.  The Arkansas Agritourism Initiative is designed to help consumers find local vendors as well as farms that offer tours or other attractions.

Country, the City Version: Farms in the Sky Gain New Interest
According to the New York Times, the concept of the “vertical farm” is being introduced once again. Scott M. Stinger, the Manhattan borough president states that, “obviously we don’t have vast amounts of vacant land.” “But the sky is the limit in Manhattan.”

SavorWisconsin.com Adds Powerful New Search for Finding Locally Grown Foods and Farmers Markets
The Agriculture News Articles reports that SavorWisconsin.com has added a complete online directory of Wisconsin's food producers, farmers markets, and local food events.

Ag Economists Prepare To Explain Farm Bill
AgricultureOnline reports that the nation's leading agricultural economists and farm management specialists are meeting in Kansas City to talk over the best ways to explain the farm bill.

Antimicrobials Target Produce Pathogens
A novel food safety treatment tested by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists could become an asset to the fast-growing fresh-cut produce industry.