June 18, 2009

In Today's Issue:

House Committee Passes Comprehensive Food Safety Bill

The House Energy and Commerce Committee passed comprehensive food safety legislation on a broad bipartisan basis yesterday, setting the course for near-term passage by the full House of Representatives.

"Once this draft bill came together in May, there has been a fast-track effort by both Democrats and Republicans to reach agreement on a bill," said United Fresh Senior Vice President for Public Policy Robert Guenther.  "While we had a number of our produce priorities included in the original draft, there were still many problem areas in that version."

Since that time, United Fresh has worked closely with Committee members on both sides of the aisle and gained significant improvements in strengthening the bill’s commodity-specific approach to produce, eliminating its prescriptive dictates on traceability that could have blocked our current Produce Traceability Initiative, exempted produce from any duplicative requirements for country of origin labeling, enhanced the ability of fresh processors to develop individual HACCP programs, assured equal treatment of imported and domestic produce and capped registration fees for both facilities and importers, and more.

"Obviously, it's been a huge task working to improve the details of this 134-page bill, but there has been good progress.  We expect to continue working with congressional allies as this bill moves through the House, and the Senate takes up its own food safety bill, in order to pass sound, scientific food safety legislation," Guenther said.

Stenzel Urges FDA Commissioner to Support Commodity Specific Standards

HamburgUnited Fresh President and CEO Tom Stenzel urged new FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg to support a commodity-specific approach to future produce safety standards during a meeting at FDA headquarters on Monday, June 15. Commissioner Hamburg invited a number of food trade association leaders to meet with her and her senior staff to share their recommendations on top priorities as she begins her service at FDA.

"This was an important opportunity to personally convey to the new Commissioner the fact that only a handful of produce commodities have been linked to the majority of foodborne illness - that's where FDA needs to focus to maximize public health benefit, and avoid adding needless burdens to other sectors without any food safety benefit," Stenzel said.

"I also had the chance to ask Dr. Hamburg to look specifically at improving FDA's risk communications, as it's critical not to scare consumers away from healthy fruits and vegetables that we need to eat for better health.  When I told her that the entire spinach outbreak in 2006 had been linked to only one day’s production from one small farm, and yet national spinach consumption is still down almost three years later, she appreciated first-hand the importance of better risk communication."

New York WIC Vouchers Now Valid at Area Farmers Markets

New YorkNew York Governor David Paterson announced Saturday that participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) can now use their monthly checks at farmers markets throughout the state to purchase eligible fresh produce. The Empire State becomes the first state in the nation to allow the use of WIC checks for fresh fruits and vegetables at farmers' markets.

"There are not enough healthy food options in many urban and rural communities throughout the State and that lack of affordable, nutritious food is hurting the health of New Yorkers," said Paterson via news release. "This program will expand access to healthy food for some of the most vulnerable women, infants and children across the State."

United Fresh Vice President of Nutrition and Health Dr. Lorelei DiSogra echoed Paterson's optimism. "New York's decision to include fresh, farmers market produce in it's WIC packages means New Yorkers will have more access to fresh and healthy foods than ever before and we applaud that," she said.

A pilot program conducted in 2006 by the Department of Health showed that WIC participants prefer fresh produce over canned or frozen products when fresh is available.

Japanese Embassy Hosts United Fresh and Members of International Ag Community

JapanThe Embassy of Japan hosted members of the international agricultural community including three United Fresh staff members last week for an Evening of Food and Agriculture.

United Fresh Director of International Member Services Melissa Speed, Political Affairs Manager Angela Bezon and Membership Director Miriam Miller were on hand, speaking with embassy representatives from Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Thailand to discuss their countries' agricultural policies and challenges.

Japan, a large importer of goods, receives approximately $17 million worth of imported commodities from the United States.  Japan, which does not grow corn, must import $4.2 million of corn from the U.S.

"We certainly enjoyed the opportunity to meet with representatives from so many countries and to learn first hand about the challenges and intricacies that each must overcome," said Speed. "We hope to use our new relationships to springboard United's offerings to our international produce community."

In addition to lively networking, the evening was highlighted by a sampling of many native fresh produce delicacies, including Japanese pumpkin and lotus root tempura.

United Continues Push for Salad Bars in Every School at 2009 WPPC

Salad Bar

If United Fresh is successful, salad bars could become just as much a fixture in American school cafeterias as milk cartons and tater tots. The drive to promote a salad bar in every school, and thereby encourage  American children to eat more fruits and vegetables, will be a major focus of United’s Washington Public Policy Conference in September.  

"Research has proven, time and time again, that when presented with the option of a salad bar, kids will eat more fruits and vegetables," said Dr. Lorelei DiSogra, Vice President for Nutrition and Health at United Fresh. "Kids need to double their fruit and vegetable intake to meet the Dietary Guidelines," DiSogra said. "Children crave independence in their decision-making, so providing salad bars at schools empowers them to make fun and nutritious choices that result in kids eating more fruits and vegetables."

United is working with lawmakers in the House and Senate to craft legislation that would direct USDA to promote salad bars in every school, and provide incentives and training. Because they offer a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, United considers salad bars to be an effective strategy for increasing consumption across a broad range of commodities.

United's salad bar initiative comes on the heels of recent nutrition policy victories on the nationwide expansion of the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program and the inclusion of produce in the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). "We are gratified by the progress we've made in advancing fresh produce in our nation's nutrition policies," said United Fresh President Tom Stenzel. "Promoting a salad bar in every school is an attainable goal and a logical next step for increasing fruit and vegetable consumption among children."

Enacting a national school salad bar policy is only one of several key focus areas for the Washington-based association's annual fall gathering, September 9-11 at the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel. Other priorities include opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act and promotion of a strong and science-based food safety policy. Additionally, solution providers in these and other produce industry priorities will be featured at United’s new Management Resource Center, which will be held during the WPPC at the Mayflower.

Those interested in attending the Conference or more information may register here or contact Angela Bezon at 202-303-3400 ext. 416 or abezon@unitedfresh.org.


United Fresh Heads to California to Meet with Members, Leaders

CaliforniaUnited Fresh President & CEO Tom Stenzel will lead a Town Hall discussion in Santa Maria, Calif. on Monday, June 22. The complimentary luncheon will include updates on key issues facing the produce industry such as traceability, food safety legislation, card-check, and growing produce sales through the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable School Snack Program.

Following the Santa Maria meeting, Stenzel, along with United Fresh Grower-Shipper Board Chairman and Sun World International President Al Vangelos will host a reception in Bakersfield, Calif. for the members of Produce Industry Leadership Class 15, who will hold their inaugural meeting in California next week. Both events are included on the leadership class' itinerary and all local United Fresh members and industry leaders are invited to attend.

For more details or to RSVP for either event, please contact Membership Director Miriam Miller at 202-303-3400 ext. 410.

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