June 11, 2009

In Today's Issue:


House Subcommittee Marks Up Food Safety Enforcement Act of 2009

House of Representatives

House lawmakers made progress Wednesday (June 10) in reaching agreements on key issues in landmark food safety legislation. Responding to concerns from United and other food industry groups, lawmakers cut the mandatory registration fee from $1,000 to $500, with a limit of $175,000 for any single company. The new language allows the industry to have input on how FDA will spend the money.

In another compromise, the House Subcommittee on Health inserted language saying that standards for fresh produce must address specific areas that will minimize risk of food safety outbreaks.

Finally, the committee also recognized that products under the current USDA Country of Origin Labeling requirements will be exempt from any new COOL requirements issued by FDA.

"Today's markup represents another important step in transforming our nation's food safety laws and addressing needed improvements for ensuring consumer confidence in our food safety system," said Tom Stenzel, United's president and C.E.O., following Wednesday's action. "We applaud the subcommittee; both Democrats and Republicans, for taking this important step and creating a strong legislative framework that will help modernize our country’s food safety programs."

Tom testified before the Subcommittee on an early draft of the Act last week, expressing a need for further review of certain language in the bill, but giving his overall support of its initiatives.

"While this legislation is still a work in progress, we are pleased that the committee has addressed some of the key issues we think are important in this bill, including providing for commodity specific, science-based standards for produce by the federal government, allowing for industry-driven advances on traceability, and targeted research funding that will help drive important food safety innovations in the produce industry," said Tom in his testimony.

"Food safety remains our industry's top priority. The men and women who grow, pack, process and deliver fresh produce are committed to providing consumers with safe and wholesome foods."


Child Nutrition, Food Safety Spearhead United Discussion with USDA Deputy Secretary Merrigan

Merrigan Critical produce industry issues took top priority in a meeting last week with USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan in which the new deputy secretary pledged an equally strong commitment to helping increase consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the many USDA programs.

United President Tom Stenzel, Senior Vice President Public Policy Robert Guenther, and Vice President Nutrition and Health Dr. Lorelei DiSogra met with Merrigan and key staff members to discuss the industry’s commitment to working with the Obama Administration to increase children’s fruit and vegetable consumption. Also discussed were pressing issues including child nutrition, commodity purchases of fresh produce, food safety.

Deputy Secretary Merrigan, who previously served as administrator of the Agricultural Marketing Service at USDA during the Clinton Administration, has a long relationship with United leadership, having worked together in the late 1990s to turn the inspection service scandal at Hunts Point into an opportunity to overhaul and expand training, quality control and ethical standards in produce inspection.  United was instrumental at the time in securing Congressional funding to build a new USDA inspection training center, which now provides year-round training to both AMS employees and industry members trained through United’s own educational programs. 


24 EU Countries to Start School Fruit and Vegetable Snack Programs

European UnionCreating a huge opportunity for the fresh and fresh-cut produce industry to capitalize on sales to schools, the European Commission's DG-AGRI is making €90 million available annually as matching funds for EU countries to provide daily fruit and vegetable snacks to school children. 24 of the 27 EU countries submitted applications this week for portions of that funding to either start or expand School Fruit and Vegetable Schemes in their countries by the start of the school year with the goal of reversing declining fruit and vegetable consumption among European children.

Including each country's financial match, €156 million will be available during the 2009-10 school year. Only three countries - Sweden, Finland and Latvia – did not apply for funding.

United Fresh, along with our colleagues at FreshFel and European public health organizations, advocated for funding to expand the program to all EU countries as an effective strategy to increase children’s fruit and vegetable intake.

Additional information is available on DR AGRI's website. For more information, contact United Fresh vice president of nutrition and health, Dr. Lorelei DiSogra at 202-303-3400.


United Helps Lead Industry Support for National Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement

Leafy GreensA proponent group of produce associations representing the leafy greens industry across the U.S. sent a letter to USDA on Monday (June 8) requesting the creation of a national marketing agreement for leafy greens (NLGMA). A NLGMA would implement best practices and a corresponding verification program that could reduce the potential for microbial contamination in these crops.

The proponent group, comprised of the Georgia Fresh Vegetable Association, Georgia Farm Bureau, Texas Vegetable Association, Arizona Farm Bureau, Leafy Greens Council, California Farm Bureau, California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, Grower-Shipper Association of Central California, Produce Marketing Association, Western Growers and United Fresh, has consulted with stakeholders across the country about developing a draft leafy greens marketing agreement.

The goals of the NLGMA are to improve consumer confidence in leafy greens; enhance the quality of fresh leafy green vegetable products through the application of good agricultural practices; implement a uniform, auditable, science-based food quality enhancement program; provide for USDA validation and verification of program compliance and foster greater collaboration with local, state and federal regulators.

The USDA will review the request, publish a Notice of Hearing in the Federal Register announcing the request, solicit input from stakeholders and schedule public hearing dates.

A draft agreement is ready for comment and review from all stakeholders at www.nlgma.org. This web site will provide additional information to all interested parties including the proponent letter to the USDA. For more information, contact Robert Guenther at 202-303-3409 or rguenther@unitedfresh.org.


APHIS Stakeholders Meeting Draws Industry Comments

APHISIn order to combat emerging pest and disease threats at home and abroad, the USDA Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) held a stakeholder meeting this week in Riverdale, Md. on one of the key Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance provisions, Section 10201, which establishes a Plant Pest and Disease Management and Disaster Prevention program.    

That section was funded with $12 million annually in mandatory money for FY2009, $45 million for FY2010 and $50 million thereafter; however one of the recurring comments from industry has been concern over the Administration’s budget recommendation to slash 66% of the funding from the program for FY2010.

“Regardless of the beneficial comments that APHIS receives through this process, without a commitment of real dollars to this program it will fail to meet its objectives,” said Kam Quarles, United vice president of government relations and legislative affairs. 

The two-day conference generated comments from industry along with local, state and federal officials to improve the program in the future. 


Scholarship Program Fosters Growth, Development of Family Businesses

WPPCUnited Fresh is pleased to once again encourage applications for the Frieda Rapoport Caplan Family Business Scholarship. The Caplan Scholarship Program awards up to four scholarships for employees of family-owned United Fresh member businesses to attend United's Washington Public Policy Conference (WPPC), September 9-11 at the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C.

"This scholarship program really opened my eyes to how critical it is for the produce industry to get involved and have a strong voice in Washington," said Gahl Crane, Prime Produce International and 2008 scholarship recipient. "It's one thing to talk about issues impacting your business, but it's an entirely different game to meet with your Members of Congress to make sure your views are being heard."

Scholarship recipients will receive complimentary airfare, hotel and registration to attend the conference which brings together hundreds of produce leaders from all sectors of the industry to interact personally and share ideas with Administration officials, congressional leaders, and industry colleagues.

Established in 2001 through a generous grant from Frieda's, Inc. by Karen Caplan and Jackie Caplan Wiggins, the program is designed to increase involvement from family businesses in government relations and produce industry advocacy.

To apply, participants must complete an application form and written submission detailing why they want to attend the WPPC and what they hope to gain from the experience. The application can be downloaded from United Fresh's website and must be received by July 24.

Applications should be sent to the United Fresh Research & Education Foundation, attention Julie Jacocks. Applications can be e-mailed to jjacocks@unitedfresh.org, faxed to 202-303-3433, or mailed to United Fresh Foundation, 1901 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Suite 1100, Washington, DC, 20006.

For more information about the scholarship program, please contact Victoria Backer at 202-303-3400 ext. 408, and for more information about WPPC, or to register, contact Angela Bezon at, 202-303-3400 ext. 416.

U Connect Provides Understanding of Objectives, Processes Involved in PTI

UConnect

In Orlando, Fla. this week, Dan Vaché, United Fresh vice president of supply chain logistics sat down with attendees at GS1’s U Connect Conference to present the background and fundamentals of the Produce Traceability Initiative for those with only a beginning comprehension of the most ambitious industry initiative in recent memory. 

"It was a good audience who asked great questions concerning the genesis of the PTI and the specific milestones," said Dan.  "Since - for many in the audience - this was their first exposure to the PTI. It was a rewarding session to have them so engaged."

For his second presentation, Dan was joined by former Kroger Company and United Board Member Gale Prince in bringing the audience up to date on the need for whole chain traceability in the fresh fruit and vegetable market segment.  The interest generated by the PTI drew not only those involved in the produce industry but various other perishable market segments to the session.

"Other perishable industries are watching us closely to see how the supply side and subsequent links in the distribution system are working together to maintain as much efficiency in their processes as possible," said Dan. "Many folks congratulated our industry and feel we are taking a bold step to achieve chain-wide adoption of electronically documented traceability on every case of product by the year 2012."

For continued updates on the Produce Traceability Initiative please visit www.producetraceability.org.

New Resource Center to Showcase Innovations in Food Safety, Traceability, Logistics and Nutrition

Resource Center The United Fresh Produce Association announced Monday the creation of a new Management Resource Center at its upcoming Washington Public Policy Conference, designed to highlight business solutions in traceability, food safety, sustainability, nutrition and other areas being shaped by government policies today. The Center aims to drive business solutions in the areas of traceability, food safety, sustainability and nutrition, among others.

"Right now, lawmakers and regulators are making changes that can have immense impact on the produce industry," said Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy. "With these changes come challenges and opportunities, and our Management Resource Center will allow solution providers to share their insights and tools with our industry's CEOs and senior management who come together during the industry's premier public policy gathering."

The new Center capitalizes on the success of United's Traceability Demonstration Center at the United Fresh 2009 show in Las Vegas, in which companies had the chance to talk informally about the challenges of traceability. Now, with Congress debating mandatory traceability requirements for all foods, it’s more important than ever for industry leaders to understand what technologies and services are available.

In addition to the Management Resource Center, United's annual Washington Public Policy Conference will bring together more than 300 industry leaders from throughout the produce supply chain to participate in a wide range of policy-oriented activities, including personal visits with some 140 Congressional offices, a town hall meeting at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, a special White House briefing with executives from the Obama administration, the Fresh Festival Reception on Capitol Hill, and senior level addresses by members of the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate.

For more information on the Management Resource Center, please contact John Toner at 202-303-3400 ext. 424, and for more on the Washington Public Policy Conference, please contact Angela Bezon at 202-303-3400 ext. 416.

United Weighs in on Foodborne Outbreak Responses at Annual AFDO Meeting

AFDOAt last week's annual meeting of the Association of Food and Drug Officials, United Fresh Senior Vice President of Food Safety and Technology Dr. David Gombas stressed the importance of including industry assets and feedback in all efforts to optimize response to disease outbreaks in the food supply.

"The path to improving foodborne outbreak response will undoubtedly integrate the skills and efforts of federal, state and local public health agencies," said David. "But to best protect public health, that integration must find a way to include the knowledge and skills of industry."

David was an invited panelist this week, alongside officials from CDC and FDA, in a session on Improving Response Capabilities with Food Emergencies at the meeting, held in Oak Brook, Ill.

"Lessons learned from the 2008 Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak, announced one year ago this week, demonstrate that the industry has knowledge of production and distribution practices that can support, or correct, conclusions drawn solely from epidemiology," David continued.

Gombas noted during his talk that the produce industry is in active discussion with both FDA and CDC on ways to make this critical information accessible.

United Fresh Town Hall Meeting Comes to Santa Maria June 22

TownhallUnited Fresh members and non-members alike are invited to share their views and express concerns on pressing industry issues at an upcoming Town Hall meeting in Santa Maria, Calif. on June 22.

Representatives from all segments of the produce industry are invited to join President and CEO Tom Stenzel to discuss critical issues facing our industry, including traceability, food safety, labor and more.  Attendees will also have the opportunity to meet the members of Class 15 of the Produce Industry Leadership Program.

"These events provide a great opportunity to visit and network with United Fresh members and the industry." said Jeff. "The town hall meetings provide an excellent forum for United Fresh to showcase our leadership on the industry-wide move to whole-chain produce traceability, and our legislative and regulatory efforts, along with a host of other initiatives."

To RSVP, download the invitation form or contact United Membership Director Miriam Miller at 202-303-3400 ext. 410.

Azerbaijani Delegation Includes United Headquarters on Agricultural Fact-Finding Mission

Azerbaijan
United's Victoria Backer with members of the Azerbaijani delegation

As part of an international program to learn more about agribusiness in the U.S., five leaders from Azerbaijan’s agricultural community visited the United Fresh office on Thursday, June 4. The program participants were invited to the United States through the Department of State's International Visitor Leadership Program, with the goal of returning to Azerbaijan with a better understanding of economic and environmental challenges of providing low cost, high quality and safe food products for both domestic consumption and international export.

In addition to visiting agricultural operations in California and Indiana, the delegation spoke with Victoria Backer, senior vice president of member services, and Miriam Miller, director of membership, to learn about the U.S. fresh produce industry and discuss key challenges facing produce companies in both the U.S. and Azerbaijan.

"United Fresh has a broad international membership base and this was a great opportunity to learn more about challenges the produce industry face overseas," said Miller. "While Azerbaijan's climate and history make for a unique agribusiness environment, we quickly found that many of the issues we face, such as increasing consumption, were common us both."

United Fresh Attends Ag Transportation Conference

Container ShipIn order to combat the devastating effects that breaks in the supply chain can have on perishable cargo like fresh produce, Kam Quarles, United Fresh vice president of government relations and legislative affairs addressed and interacted with industry stakeholders during last week's Agricultural Transportation Conference in San Francisco, Calif.

"The fresh produce industry, due to the highly-perishable nature of our products, is extremely sensitive to logistics impediments," said Kam. "Lack of container availability, understaffed inspectors and other bureaucratic hurdles result in acutely damaging results for our industry."

Joining Kam were growers, packers, processors, transportation providers and government officials discussing how to assist the transportation and logistics industry to better serve the unique needs of the agriculture sector.

Sessions included presentations by ocean carriers, railroads and trucking interests along with insurance providers and a workshop on the Automated Export System.  Several port authorities were also on hand to address issues such as port user fees and new air quality standards affecting truck movements within the port's jurisdiction.

New Member Welcome

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

  • Berry Fresh Produce, Long Beach, Calif.
  • Shapiro Fruits, Montreal, Quebec
  • Village Farms, Eatontown, N.J.
Welcome
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 or Miriam Miller at 202-303-3400.

Upcoming United Fresh Events
Upcoming Events


News & Views

U.S. NEWS:

News and Views

FDA chief lauds food safety bill as the 'right direction'

USDA raises Florida orange forecast by 2 million boxes

Farmworker bill passes New York state Assembly

USDA to buy $2.7 million in fresh tomatoes

California growers work to reduce theft, increase food safety

INTERNATIONAL NEWS:

China opens market to Indonesian fruits

Keeping Australian fruit fresh by selling online

New Zealand changes scheme for fruit pickers

Tesco 'breaking promise' to South African fruit pickers

French union says women work under slave-like conditions in Eastern Europe


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