July 31, 2008

In Today's Issue:

Congressional Food Safety Hearings Put Spotlight on Produce Industry
On Wednesday and Thursday, congressional hearings were held to better understand the traceability aspects of the salmonella investigation and focus on flaws in the investigation and lessons learned for the future.  On Wednesday, the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Horticulture and Organic Agriculture held a hearing that examined legal and technological capacity for full traceability in fresh produce.  On Thursday, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing to better understand lessons learned from the salmonella outbreak and how they have impacted consumers and the industry.  Tom Stenzel, president and CEO of United Fresh was a witness at both the Wednesday and Thursday hearings.  “These hearings provided us with an important opportunity to educate our elected leaders about what went wrong in the investigation, and the lessons learned for the future,” said Stenzel.  “In addition, we were able to answer questions directly regarding perceived problems with trace back during this investigation and provide important information on the industry’s primary responsibility of protecting the public health,” he stated.  For further information contact Robert at 202-303-3409.

Clarification on FDA’s Consumer Warning
Following our outbreak update yesterday, we received some questions about the safety of tomatoes.  We would like to clarify here that FDA has not changed its July 17 statement in which it announced that “fresh tomatoes now available in the domestic market are not associated with the current outbreak.” This means that tomatoes for sale in the U.S. market, no matter their origin, are safe to consume. In addition, as we reported yesterday, FDA testified at the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Horticulture and Organic Agriculture’s hearing that “laboratory testing by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has confirmed that both a sample of Serrano pepper and a sample of irrigation water collected by agency investigators on a farm in the state of Nuevo Leon, Mexico, contain Salmonella saintpaul with the same genetic fingerprint as the strain of bacteria that is causing the current outbreak in the United States.” As a result, late yesterday, FDA began advising consumers to “avoid raw Serrano peppers from Mexico, in addition to raw jalapeño peppers from Mexico, and any foods that contain them.”  The CDC is reporting that the latest onset of illness date is now July 12, with a possible July 13 date that has yet to be confirmed.  Please contact Amy Philpott, vice president of communications at United Fresh, if you have any questions.

Interim Final Rule Issued for Country of Origin Labeling
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has issued an Interim Final Rule to implement mandatory country-of-origin labeling this fall.  The rule will be published in the Federal Register on August 1. United Fresh Produce staff and outside legal experts are now reviewing the 220-page publication, and will soon issue guidance for the industry in complying with the new regulations.  In addition, United Fresh is joining with the Food Marketing Institute and American Meat Institute to provide three workshops across the country August 12 in Baltimore, August 13 in Chicago, and August 14 in San Jose for an in-person discussion with USDA officials, industry experts, and most importantly, your supply chain partners from produce suppliers to retailers.  These workshops are your only opportunity to meet with suppliers and customers together to address the challenges of implementing COOL most efficiently. For questions about COOL or the upcoming workshops, please contact Andrew Marshall at 202-303-3407.

United Fresh, Nutrition Advocates Visit CDC
Last week Dr. Lorelei DiSogra, vice president of nutrition and health at United Fresh, and other nutrition advocates met with officials at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity, and Division of Adolescent and School Health, at CDC’s headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. The group discussed how CDC is providing national leadership to programs and activities to promote fruit and vegetable consumption and how to foster stronger collaboration between all of the various partners in the National Fruit and Vegetable Alliance. In addition to Lorelei, the group included Elizabeth Pivonka, Produce for Better Health Foundation; Margo Wootan, National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity and Center for Science in the Public Interest; and Joan Atkinson and Dianne Golinski, representing the National Council of Fruit and Vegetable Nutrition Coordinators. For more information contact Lorelei DiSogra at 202-303-3403.

States Get Their Allocations for the Snack Program
USDA recently released funding allocations for each state for the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program for School Year 2008-09. In total, $48, 899,165 million are available to implement the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program this coming school year. Funding from the FY’08 Ag Appropriations Bill and the 2008 Farm Bill are combined to reach the more than $48 million total available to states. Each state will receive a base grant and states with larger populations, such as California, Texas, New York, Michigan, and Florida will receive a larger share of the funds. This school year approximately 1 million school children will enjoy a fresh fruit and vegetable snack for free every day at school. For more information contact Lorelei DiSogra at 202-303-3403.

Visit a Foreign Embassy, Gain Insight into Global Trade
This year’s Washington Public Policy Conference gives you an exclusive opportunity to select meetings with agriculture policy advisors from the Australian, European Union, or Mexican Embassies. Take advantage of your trip to Washington, D.C. and use these Embassy briefings to expand your knowledge of the global produce industry.  At the Australian Embassy, meet with Dr. Robert Williams, Agriculture-Veterinary Counselor, who works with the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service and is responsible for public health and trade between Australia and North America. The European Union briefing will be held with Laurent Javaudin, First Secretary, Agriculture Affairs, who previously served under the European Commission’s Directorate General for Agriculture in Brussels. At the Mexican Embassy, Counselor for Agriculture Affairs Froylan Garcia will be available to answer your questions. Mr. Garcia has worked extensively on trade agreements between Mexico and Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Israel and the European Union.  He serves as the chief agriculture negotiator for the ongoing free trade and economic cooperation agreements with Panama, Brazil, Uruguay, Peru and the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas. Register for WPPC and sign up for an embassy visit today!  Fore more information, please contact Angela Bezon at abezon@unitedfresh.org or 202-303-3400.

United Fresh in The Big Apple
As the staff liaison to the new United Fresh Wholesaler-Distributor Board it was a great learning experience to spend a day at the Hunts Point Terminal Market (Market) with Matthew D’Arrigo, chairman of the new market segment board and, of course, part owner of D’Arrigo Brothers of New York, one of the first companies on the Market.  I have to admit, I wasn’t sure what to expect as we drove into The Bronx on Tuesday morning. I’ve been to wholesale markets in more than 20 countries around the world, but the Hunts Point Terminal Market has always been the one that other markets were compared to – so I jumped at the opportunity to go.  Matthew and I arrived at the Market late – 6:30 a.m. – and it was a Tuesday, which I learned is typically slower than other days of the week.  Later, when we walked the platform, I was glad it was slower because staying out of the way of hand trucks, pallet movers and the regular hustle and bustle was enough of a challenge as it were.  Matthew answered my many questions about the Hunts Point Market and about wholesale markets in general – knowledge that will come in handy when meeting with the Wholesaler-Distributor Board. I even got a glimpse of what it takes to administer a market this size when I attended a meeting about the Market’s expansion.  A special thanks to Matthew and D’Arrigo Brothers of New York for showing me around the Market.

While in New York, I also visited the offices of Supermarket News and Produce News.  Thanks to Group Editor Bob Vosburgh, Editor Matthew Enis and Reporter Amy Sung at Supermarket News.  And thanks also to Editor Gordon Hochberg and Managing Editor Dan Jalil at Produce News.

Know What to Do In a Product Recall Situation
The next "Training for a Recall, Communicating Under Fire," presented by the United Fresh Foundation, will be held at the Sheraton Gateway Los Angeles.  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.  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 202-303-3405.

New Member Welcome
Each week, United Fresh welcomes its newest partners in building a stronger produce industry:
  • Alchemy Systems, Austin, TX
  • Carmela Vineyards, Glenns Ferry, ID
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, joberman@unitedfresh.org

News and Views

Sen. Tom Harkin Calls all Superheroes to the Produce Aisle
The World Link reports that the nation’s largest food and beverage companies spent about $1.6 billion in 2006 marketing their products, especially foods that are often unhealthy.

USDA Has Hope for the WTO
Reuters.com reports that Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer thinks the World Trade Organization talks may be at an impasse rather than a collapse, and he is hoping for further progress toward freer trade.

What SPF Does Produce Need?
CNN reports that in Fresno, California they are using sunscreen for fruits and vegetables to prevent skin blistering, heat stress and blemishes!  Crops are already being tested in Australia and Chile.

COOL Rules at the USDA
On July 29th, the interim final rule for the mandatory country of origin labeling (COOL) program has been released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to become effective on September 30, 2008.

Farmers at Local Markets Feel the Pinch
Washington Post reports that market farmers nationwide face rising costs for fuel, fertilizer and animal feed, forcing them to increase prices that are already often higher than retail prices.