Constancy in the Face of Change
President and CEO
As 2008 comes to a close, the produce industry is preparing for a new day interacting with the incoming Obama Administration. Whether you believe this ushers in "change we can believe in," or "change that scares the heck out of you," the implications for our industry are huge. But one thing is certain – you can continue to depend upon United Fresh Produce Association as your voice in Washington, D.C.
In the past few weeks, I've been reminded often that no other organization offers you the direct input, personal and professional credibility, and skilled advocacy team to deliver the produce industry’s views to government. In December alone, the Obama Transition Team has called on United for three separate briefings on key issues on the new President’s agenda.
Our Senior Vice President Robert Guenther represented United at a meeting of all major ag commodity groups with the USDA transition team, as the only fruit/vegetable or specialty crop organization at this meeting. Robert encouraged the Obama team to maintain funding and provide strong support for new research for specialty crops, plant protection from pests and disease, state specialty crop block grants to boost industry competitiveness, and national expansion of the school snack program. He also asked that USDA play a stronger role in the immigration debate to help create a better understanding of the critical needs in agriculture.
Then, Obama Transition Team members met with Vice President Dr. Lorelei DiSogra and a small group of allied public health and nutrition groups. As the only industry member present of any kind, Lorelei focused on 2009 Child Nutrition Reauthorization, the Institute of Medicine’s new report being prepared on quality of school meals, implementation of WIC fruit and vegetable vouchers, and the school snack program. She also had a good discussion on the political importance of these nutrition programs, and the opportunities for the White House and President to be directly involved.
Last, our Senior Vice President Dr. David Gombas, Robert and I met privately with the FDA/HHS transition team to share our recommendations for food safety policy, changes and improvements at FDA, and the importance of a new model between HHS, CDC and FDA in foodborne disease outbreak management. This was a unique private meeting in which we were able to be mutually candid about the challenges within FDA and CDC, and focus on the need for change. The FDA transition team asked for our specific recommendations on what could/should be accomplished within the first 100 days of the Administration, and what issues should be addressed over the longer-term.
But our team doesn't stop there – I can say unequivocally that United has the strongest outside team of legal and legislative experts on your behalf with our General Counsel Marshall Matz of Olsson Frank and Weeda, who served as Agricultural Coordinator for the Obama campaign; and Randy Russell, Lesher, Russell and Barron, who worked closely with the McCain team. I had to laugh when Congressional Quarterly reported right before the election on candidates that might be considered for Secretary of Agriculture depending upon which candidate won. Randy was in the top 3 on CQ's projection for McCain, while Marshall was in the top 3 for Obama. Not many associations in any industry can boast that kind of credibility and respect whether Republican or Democrat.
So, it's a new year tomorrow. But one constant you can count on – United Fresh Produce will be there for you, fighting for your interests just as we have for the past 104 years. Wishing you a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!