July 9, 2009

In Today's Issue:

White House Includes Industry Recommendations in Food Safety Plan

White HouseVice President Joe Biden, flanked by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, announced the administration’s Food Safety Working Group recommendations Tuesday in an effort to better coordinate and modernize the country's food safety system. Senior Vice President of Public Policy Robert Guenther attended this meeting representing United Fresh.

In March of this year, President Obama announced the formation of this working group to coordinate federal efforts and develop short- and long-term agendas to make food safer. The group was co-chaired by Secretary Sebelius and Secretary Vilsack and was charged with presenting recommendations on how to upgrade U.S. food safety laws, coordinate food safety efforts throughout the government and ensure laws are being adequately enforced.

On May 13, the working group held a listening session with participation from state and local governments, representatives from the food industry, consumer advocates and other experts. United Fresh President and CEO Tom Stenzel was invited to participate in the day-long listening and subsequent breakout sessions.

In December of last year, United Fresh also met with the Obama Administration Food Safety Transition Team to offer recommendations on regulatory and policy changes that should be considered. Tuesday’s briefing included the following recommendations made by the administration that would impact the produce industry:

  • By the end of July, FDA will issue commodity-specific draft guidance on preventive controls that industry can implement to reduce the risk of microbial contamination in the production and distribution of tomatoes, melons, and leafy greens. These proposals will help the federal government establish a minimum standard for production across the country. Over the next two years, FDA will seek public comment and work to require adoption of these approaches through regulation.
  • Within three months, FDA will issue draft guidance on steps the food industry can take to establish product tracing systems to improve our national capacity for detecting the origins of foodborne illness.
  • Within three months, Federal agencies will implement a new incident command system to address outbreaks of foodborne illness. This approach will link all relevant agencies, as well as state and local governments, more effectively, facilitating communication and decision-making in an emergency.
  • Later this month, federal food safety agencies will ask state and local agencies to update their emergency operations procedures to be consistent with the new Guidelines for Foodborne Disease Outbreak Response soon to be issued by the Council to Improve Foodborne Outbreak Response. Implementation of these guidelines will lead to quicker response, better communication, and better coordination by all federal, state, and local agencies.
  • Also later this month, FDA will establish the deputy commissioner for foods, a new position to oversee and coordinate all of the administration's efforts on food, including food safety. This position, reporting to the commissioner, will be empowered to restructure and revitalize FDA’s activities and work with the Food Safety Inspection Service and other agencies in developing a new food safety system.

To see a full list of the administration’s recommendations, please click here.

"Today's White House announcement demonstrates how the government and the food industry can work together to make meaningful and practical food safety improvements," said Stenzel. "The administration's plan embraces several key recommendations advanced by United Fresh to help ensure that food safety initiatives address produce industry priorities."

"These recommendations set a strong foundation for the food safety legislative work on Capitol Hill," said Robert Guenther, senior vice president for public policy at United Fresh. "We have been successful in making critical improvements in the House food safety bill and look forward to working with the Senate and the Obama Administration to help drive improvements in our nation’s food safety practices."

FDA Veteran Returns as Senior Advisor

Mike TaylorMichael R. Taylor, a nationally-recognized food safety expert and research professor from the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services, will return to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to serve as senior advisor to the commissioner.

"I am pleased to welcome Mike Taylor back to the FDA," said FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg via press release. "His expertise and leadership on food safety issues will help the agency to develop and implement the prevention based strategy we need to ensure the safety of the food we eat."

United Fresh President and CEO Tom Stenzel also expressed support for Taylor's appointment. "I would certainly say that he is a respected leader in food safety and brings strong expertise to FDA," Stenzel said. "We look forward to working with Mike and his team on the critical issue of food safety."

According to Hamburg, Taylor will work closely and collaboratively with her office and with the management of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, Center for Veterinary Medicine, the Office of Regulatory Affairs, Congress, and with members of the Obama Administration.

"I am honored and grateful that Commissioner Hamburg has asked me to return to the FDA in the position of senior advisor to the commissioner," Taylor said. "I am looking forward to working with her, Principal Deputy Commissioner Joshua Sharfstein, and all of the FDA's dedicated and talented people." After a 20-year career in food safety with FDA and USDA, Taylor has worked in academic and research settings since 2000 on the challenges facing the nation's food safety system and ways to address them.

Taylor’s recent research agenda has focused on policy, resource, and institutional issues that affect the success of public health agencies in carrying out their prevention-related missions. He served as chair of the steering committee of the Food Safety Research Consortium, collaboration among six universities and a nonprofit think tank to improve food safety decision making and priority setting.

Social Security No-Match Rule Rescinded

Farm WorkersToday, the Department of Homeland Security announced that the Social Security No-Match Rule would be rescinded, marking the end of a long legal and regulatory battle over one of the most controversial immigration enforcement efforts of the Bush Administration.

Under the original rule, employers would have been required to act as an enforcement arm of the federal government.  The burden of fines and possible criminal prosecution would have been placed upon growers, labor contractors, and other organizations.

In September 2007, United Fresh joined six other plaintiffs in filing a Motion to Intervene that challenged the No-Match Rule on several grounds, including violations of the Regulatory and Flexibility Act and of the Administrative Procedure Act. Among other claims, the suit cited the severe economic hardship that businesses could endure in order to immediately comply with the regulations. Subsequent court rulings have ruled in United's favor, successfully blocking implementation of the rule.

"The No-Match Rule would have cost produce industry employers millions of dollars in administrative costs, so we are pleased that DHS has chosen to rescind this rule and look to develop a more effective program," said Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for United Fresh. "United will continue to work with DHS on this important issue."

Also in a related development, Senator David Vitter (R-LA) has prepared an amendment to a DHS FY2010 appropriations bill that would prevent DHS from rescinding or revising the current 2007 final rule. In response, United Fresh sent a letter to the Senate opposing that amendment and as of press time, the Senate has yet to vote on Sen. Vitter's amendment.

In Face of Supermajority, United Stands Firm on Card Check

Card CheckThe United Fresh Produce Association has firmly reaffirmed its opposition to passage of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), known better as "Card Check," and looks to bolster member involvement in the fight against this volatile bill in the weeks and months to come – leading up to September's Washington Public Policy Conference (WPPC)

"At WPPC this fall, members of our industry will storm Capitol Hill, and in total, visit with more than 140 congressional offices. WPPC is your opportunity to tell Congress about this bill's disastrous effects on your business", said United Vice President of Government Relations and Legislative Affairs Kam Quarles. "All industry stakeholders have a vested interest in the outcome of the debate over the EFCA. From the smallest family farms to the largest agricultural processors, the voices of the produce industry must be heard in order to derail what could be an extremely detrimental policy decision. Visit the United Fresh website to learn more about the Employee Free Choice Act or to get a jump start in making your voice heard, send a letter opposing Card Check using the United Fresh Grassroots Action Network." 

United has identified 8 key battleground states whose Senators will decide Card Check's fate. To view these 8 key states, and to become involved in our Check State Grassroots Networks efforts to defeat this bill, visit our Card Check webpage.

Quarles encouraged members and non-members alike to get involved. "Don't wait another minute - register for WPPC today and join the fight. We need your voice against Card Check!"

For more information about the 2009 Washington Public Policy Conference, contact United Fresh Political Affairs Manager Angela Bezon at 202-303-3400 extension 416.

2009 Issues Scan Offers Insights into the Consumer Thought Process

Issues ScanIn 2008, one-third of all produce shoppers said that they increased their consumption of fresh produce. When asked why, 65% replied that they ate more fruits and vegetables because of the perceived healthfulness and nutritional value of fresh produce.

The second installment of United's annual look at the consumer mind delves into this and other perceptions and is sure to give readers in-depth insight into what makes today's grocery shopper tick, according to Senior Vice President of Member Services Victoria Backer. Issues Scan 2009 is an extensive research report conducted by Harris Interactive which tracks and measures trends in consumer opinions and purchase behavior.

"This year's Issues Scan is designed to help readers understand how consumer attitudes toward issues like food safety, sustainability and product origin affect their purchasing patterns," said Backer. "We certainly consider it a valuable tool for any produce or related business."

In addition to tracking key issues, Issues Scan 2009 provides industry members with an early indication about changes in consumer attitudes and preferences that will help companies head off potential future problems. This special report also serves as a measure of progress on how the industry is addressing these concerns and building consumer confidence.

United Fresh members may purchase a copy of Issues Scan 2009 here for $125, and non-members for $195. Both hard copy and electronic format are available.  For additional information, please contact Victoria at 202-303-3400 ext. 408.

Important New Information on WIC - Retailers Urged to Be Proactive

WICNext month, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Oklahoma and Wisconsin will be the latest states to launch new food packages from the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) that include fresh produce.  Minnesota and South Dakota will follow on September 1, with the rest of the country coming online by October 1 of this year. WIC families in six states - New York, Delaware, South Carolina, Kentucky, Colorado and Utah - are already receiving the fruit and vegetable vouchers.

"This policy change in WIC translates into $600 million annually in new produce sales," said Dr. Lorelei DiSogra, United Fresh's vice president of nutrition and health. "Plus, WIC's new nutrition education materials are focused on fresh fruits and vegetables and intended to drive WIC families to the produce aisle."

United Fresh urges all retailers to be proactive and communicate with their state WIC agency to fully maximize the opportunity to sell more produce to WIC families. Although every state WIC agency must follow the same federal regulations, there are a number of decisions that each state is allowed to make that will impact retailers.

These variations include: Whether frozen, canned or dried fruits and vegetables are allowed in addition to all fresh fruits and vegetables (except white potatoes); whether WIC participants can use cash to pay the difference at check-out if the cost exceeds the value of the fruit and/or vegetable vouchers presented and whether retail point-of-sale messages are allowed and what messages can be communicated. Therefore, it's critical that retailers be in communication with their state WIC agency in order to clarify state-specific rules. In order to facilitate dialogue, a list of state WIC directors can be found here.

For additional information on WIC, please contact Dr. DiSogra at 202-303-3400.

Senate Holds Confirmation Hearing for Kevin Concannon


The Senate Agriculture Committee held a confirmation hearing Tuesday for USDA Under Secretary of Agriculture for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services nominee Kevin W. Concannon. Concannon, who previously worked with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack in Iowa, is expected to be confirmed by the Senate later this month. As under secretary, Concannon will provide leadership and policy direction for USDA's Food and Nutrition Service which administers all child nutrition programs as well as the supplemental nutrition assistance program (formerly known as the food stamps program).

"We are looking forward to working with Mr. Concannon and USDA to accomplish our goal of including more fresh fruits and vegetables and salad bars in school meals," said United Fresh Vice President of Nutrition and Health Dr. Lorelei DiSogra. "Congress is expected to start work on the Child Nutrition Reauthorization in the fall and Mr. Concannon will play a major role in driving the administration’s priorities."

Questioning during the confirmation hearing included pressure from Committee Ranking Member Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), who asked if Concannon would support making the new 2010 Dietary Guidelines the basis of official federal nutrition policy. Concannon replied that he understands there are pilot programs in place to provide incentives to encourage the purchase of fruits and vegetables, and those programs will be reviewed for effectiveness. He said he shares the committee's broad concerns with nutrition and looks forward to working with all segments of the food chain to improve nutritional habits.

Additionally during the confirmation hearing, Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) said the committee is "going to start the process" of providing Secretary Vilsack with jurisdiction over all foods sold in schools.

For more information on the hearing, please contact Dr. DiSogra at 202-303-3400.

Highly Rated Recall Workshop Scheduled for West Palm Beach

RecallUnited Fresh and Syngenta have teamed up again to help the produce industry take control and learn how to minimize the impact of a recall with Training for a Recall, Communicating Under Fire, October 27-29, in West Palm Beach, Fla.

"While a product recall can happen for a multitude of different reasons, the way you handle one can have a tremendous impact on your business," said United Fresh Vice President of Communications Ray Gilmer.

SyngentaThis specialized training program is a two-day course that focuses on helping attendees understand the fundamentals of a product recall, including individual and corporate responsibilities, the role of the FDA, how to limit individual and corporate liability and manage customer expectations.  It also takes an in-depth look at how to build a customized communication plan in the event of a recall, and how to effectively communicate to the industry, customers, consumers and the media.

"I encourage anyone who wants to build a substantive understanding of the recall process - complete with mock recall exercises and take-away materials - to attend this program," said Victoria Backer, United's senior vice president of member services.  "The feedback we have received from past courses has been exceptional and attendees are consistently raving about the applicability and usefulness of the course's lessons."

In addition to the two-day training course, United Fresh is offering a separate, customized media training session immediately following the recall training.  Designed to prepare attendees for the rigors of a real-life interview, program staff will stress the importance of adeptly navigating an interview, delivering the necessary messages and staying on point.

"The course was very beneficial," said Lorena Velarde, 2009 course attendee and director of sales and operations for Epic Roots, LLC. "There are so many tools that will be quickly put into place thanks to this training."

"This course is designed for everyone on your recall team including your management, technical, food safety, sales, marketing and communications staff," added Gilmer. "It combines recall protocols and communication management principles to ensure that your entire staff works together effectively and efficiently during a product recall."

Those interested in attending may reserve limited space in the training program by clicking here.  For more information, contact Julie Jacocks, United Fresh education coordinator, at 202-303-3400 ext. 405.

Family Business Scholarship Program Deadline Fast Approaching

Family BusinessThe deadline for submission of applications for the 2009 Frieda Rapoport Caplan Family Business Scholarship Program is right around the corner. Employees of family-owned United Fresh member companies are invited to submit applications until July 24.

This unique scholarship program is designed to increase family business involvement in produce industry advocacy by expanding opportunities for representatives from family businesses to attend United Fresh's Washington Public Policy Conference. The program was established in 2001 and is made possible through a generous grant from Frieda's, Inc.

Up to four scholarships for employees of family-owned businesses will be awarded in 2009 to attend the WPPC, September 9-11, in Washington, D.C.

To apply for a 2009 Frieda Rapoport Caplan Family Business Scholarship, 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. Applicants for the scholarship must be employed by a family business that is a United Fresh member company in good standing. The application can be downloaded here and must be received by July 24.

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

What Our Members are Saying about the Washington Public Policy Conference

Congressman Jim Costa (D-CA) visits with a group of 2006 WPPC attendees from California. Pictured are (clockwise from left): Nathan Stornetta, Produce Careers, Inc., Rep. Costa, Barry Bedwell, California Grape and Tree Fruit League, David Rogers, Orbis Container Services and Lisa McNeece, Grimmway Enterprises

Lisa McNeece
VP Foodservice and Industrial Sales
Grimmway Enterprises, Inc.
Bakersfield, Calif.

"I love Washington and I really enjoy going to the Washington Public Policy Conference. It's a great time to see friends and customers in the industry. You may see them at other meetings once or twice a year, but because the WPPC is a more intimate venue, you get to have better meetings with more quality time. "Prior to leaving for the WPPC last year, we set up a meeting with our Congressman Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) for our time in Washington. So on the day before we left, he called and asked if he could bring a freshman congressman to the meeting to meet us. Of course, I said, "yes you can bring him." That's what attending the WPPC is all about.

"I started attending six or seven years ago. Now, Kari Grimm, Phil Gruszka and Todd Linsky come too. And we all do different things - we split up the agenda and go to different events or meetings, then come back and compare notes at the end of the day.

"I wish United could do the Washington meeting twice a year. It's so much fun and so beneficial. I know it's a lot of work, but you make it look easy.

"Oh, yeah - great restaurants in Washington. I can't forget to mention that."

New Member Welcome

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

  • FMC Peroxygens, Princeton, N.J.
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
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News & Views


News and Views

Boost in food-stamp funding percolates through economy

Near-perfect weather brings Northwest farmers and fruit lovers a jubilee of cherries

Five key Senate Democrats on card-check

Which price is right?

CDC acts to expedite foodborne data sharing


Elderly in Ireland, UK need to watch their dates

Aussie citrus a hit in US

All eyes on sustainable food under Swedish presidency

Statement on high court pesticides judicial review

Produce production area falls in Canada

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