September 24, 2009

In Today's Issue:

Merrigan Announces "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" Program

Sec. Vilsack
United States Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack delivers a speech at United's Washington Public Policy Conference September 10, during which he announced the USDA's plan to launch the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food program.

USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced a new initiative last week aimed at better connecting kids to the sources of their food. In announcing the new Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, Deputy Secretary Merrigan and the USDA also hope that the effort will create opportunities for local farmers to provide their harvest to schools in their communities.

Mentioned prominently by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack at the Washington Public Policy Conference earlier this month, the initiative will make $50 million available for schools to buy local produce. The 2008 Farm Bill gave the department new flexibilities to procure local fresh fruits and vegetables for the school lunch program. Using that flexibility, USDA is proposing that schools now be able to arrange to buy fresh produce grown locally through their state agencies.

"Any program that helps to provide schools with the ability to provide students with fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables is certainly a step forward," said United Vice President of Nutrition and Health Dr. Lorelei DiSogra. "We've been excited about this program ever since Secretary Vilsack told our members about it earlier this month, and it's great to see it come to fruition."

USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) and Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) will team together and form 'Farm to School Tactical Teams' to assist school administrators as they transition to purchasing more locally grown foods. The teams will work with local farmers, local and state authorities, school districts, and community partners to develop Farm-To-School projects and provide assistance on the best ways to buy more local produce for the National School Lunch Program.

"It is important that our children have access to healthy, nutritious food and our focus on enabling schools to purchase local produce will provide opportunities for local producers," said Merrigan in a statement. "This will enable greater wealth creation in communities by allowing producers to build their capacity by serving local institutional customers like schools."

Additionally, the agencies will issue updated common-sense purchasing guidance to schools so they can buy fresh, locally grown produce for students eating through USDA's school nutrition programs, as well as common-sense guidelines for schools to procure food. To date, the department has allowed only minimal processing of regional fruits and vegetables purchased for our school meals programs. USDA will now allow additional processing like cutting or slicing, and will work to fashion policies that will allow year-round produce in areas with short growing seasons.

For more information on the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, please click here.

USDA Launches NLGMA Hearings This Week in California's Central Coast

NLGMAThis week in Monterey, Calif., USDA began a series of public hearings to examine a proposal to create a national marketing agreement for leafy greens. This is the first a in a series of hearings to will be held across the country over the next four weeks.

United Fresh, one of the proponent groups supporting this effort is encouraging members to participate and present their views.

“We are pleased USDA has initiated these hearing and we strongly recommend that our members interested in this proposal to attend and express their views about this agreement. Such an agreement would help provide a strong science-based framework to improve the quality of U.S. and imported leafy green products,” said Robert Guenther, United Fresh senior vice president of public policy.

To learn more about the hearings times, locations and how to get involved click here or please contact Guenther or United Fresh Vice President of Communications Ray Gilmer.

Produce Buyers Send Letter to Suppliers Encouraging Participation in PTI

TomatoRepresentatives from Pro*Act and 9 major retailers have collaborated on an open letter to the produce supplier community endorsing and emphasizing the importance of participation in the goals of the Produce Traceability Initiative.

"As key trading partners within the produce industry, our expectation is that you, our valued suppliers, adhere to the milestones and timelines of the PTI," the letter stated. "Those suppliers that do not conform and provide the necessary information required by the milestones of the PTI will ultimately put us and our consumers at risk."

Representatives from H-E-B, Food Lion, SuperValu, Wegmans, Sysco, Kroger, Schnucks, Walmart and Safeway took part in the letter, resulting in cooperation that, according to United Vice President of Supply Chain Management Dan Vaché, is key to the long-term success of the initiative, and any further progress on traceability.

"The effectiveness of an industry-led effort like the PTI depends entirely on the dedication of those within the industry," said Vaché. "To have companies like this - competitors on the balance sheet, but allies within the industry - so united in their recognition of the importance of whole-chain traceability is an invaluable asset and bodes extremely well for the prospects of the PTI."

For the full text of the letter, please click here, and for more on United's efforts on whole-chain traceability, please contact Vaché at 202-303-3400

State Ag Departments Urge Quick Resolution to Mexican Trucking Standoff

Mexican Trucking The leaders of nine state departments of agriculture in the western U.S. sent a letter to President Obama last week urging him to address the Mexican trucking crisis immediately.  "It is vital," read the letter, "that your Administration quickly addresses any outstanding issues related to the trucking pilot program so that our producers can regain unfettered access to the Mexican market."

Earlier this year, the U.S. eliminated a safety program for Mexican trucks entering the country.  This action caused the Mexicans to retaliate with over $2 billion in tariffs against a host of American products including many in the fresh produce sector.

United Fresh is strongly urging the U.S. to adhere to its commitments under North American Free Trade Agreement and re-implement an acceptable program to allow Mexican trucks to enter the U.S.  This would allow for a concurrent elimination of the retaliatory tariffs that are causing significant harm to U.S. fresh produce exports.

For more on United's efforts in the areas of domestic and international trade, log on to

United's Vaché Urges Implentation of PTI at Piazza Produce's Inaugural Food Show

United’s Dan Vaché (second from left) joins Piazza Produce's Marcus Agresta, Jenny Piazza Beaber and Pete Piazza at Indianapolis' Conseco Fieldhouse last week.

Last week, United's Vice President of Supply Chain Management Dan Vaché joined attendees at Indianapolis-based Piazza Produce's inaugural food expo, A Fresh Experience for You! The event, held on the floor at Indianapolis' Conseco Fieldhouse, provided an opportunity for Vaché to visit with members of the foodservice community and discuss the ins and outs of the Produce Traceability Initiative.

During his presentation, Produce Traceability and You! Vaché emphasized the need for whole-chain traceability, and fielded questions from chefs and foodservice operators, as well as representatives from the educational and institutional sectors.

"Given the engagement and dedication to the end goals of PTI shown by the attendees this past week in Indianapolis," said Vaché, "it is easy to see that the initiative is absolutely headed in the right direction."

The event's organizers were equally optimistic about the PTI. "Being able to trace product from the grower to the end user is absolutely vital in today’s marketplace," said Piazza Food Safety and Quality Manager Mike Lewis. "We must realize that the end user is the public and they deserve to know that the products they consume are as safe as possible whether served at a national restaurant chain, the neighborhood grill or in their own kitchen."

CDC Releases $373M in Recovery Funds for Chronic Disease Prevention in Communities

CDCThe Centers for Disease Control announced last week that $373 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 would be released to fund the first part of a new $650 million public health initiative called Communities Putting Prevention to Work. This initiative will put money into the hands of communities, states, and territories with the goals of reducing risk factors for chronic diseases and promoting wellness. Increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables is proven as a simple way to accomplish both objectives.

According to the CDC, the initial $373 million will support grants to be awarded through a competitive selection process to communities to support evidence-based prevention strategies for youths and adults and to promote partnerships across communities and sectors.

"State and local programs that fight obesity by encouraging healthier eating and increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables are a great example of a fund-worthy project," said Dr. Lorelei DiSogra, vice president of nutrition and health for United Fresh. "Given our longstanding cooperation with CDC, we are excited about what this funding can accomplish."

Funded projects must fall into one of two categories: Obesity, Physical Activity and Nutrition, or Tobacco Prevention and Control. Ideal projects will emphasize high-impact, broad-reaching policy, environmental, and systems changes in schools, communities, and states.

Approximately 30-40 community awardees will be selected for the Communities Putting Prevention to Work initiative. Communities that wish to apply for awards can find more information at The application deadline for the community projects is December 1, 2009.

An additional $277 million will be made available in the coming weeks to states, territories, and other organizations and networks to support and extend the reach and impact of the community projects. The deadlines for the state, territory, and other prevention projects that are part of the Communities Putting Prevention to Work initiative will be announced soon.

More information on the efforts of CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act can be found online at

Popular Recall Training Course Comes to Sunshine State

SyngentaUnited Fresh and Syngenta are teamed once 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.

This 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.

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.

"This course is designed for everyone on your recall team including your management, technical, food safety, sales, marketing and communications staff," said Ray Gilmer, vice president, communications. "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 space in the training program by clicking here.  For more information and to read what past attendees have said about the program, click here, or contact Julie Jacocks, United Fresh education coordinator, at 202-303-3400 ext. 405.

United Fresh Briefs Mushroom Industry on FDA Reportable Food Registry

MushroomsNearly 500 attendees gathered in Pennsylvania mushroom country this week for the 51st annual Penn State Mushroom Industry Conference in Kennett Square. Featured at the conference was United’s own Dr. David Gombas, senior vice president of food safety and technology, who briefed conference attendees on the new Reportable Food Registry (RFR) from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

"The RFR was established by Congress in 2007 in the FDA Amendments Act, and became mandatory for all FDA-regulated foods - including fresh produce - on September 8," said Dr. Gombas. "While farms are exempted from requirements under the RFR, packinghouses, processors, warehouses and other facilities required to register with FDA under the Bioterrorism Act are now required, by law, to submit information to the RFR within 24 hours if they find they have received or produced a food ingredient or product that could cause severe health consequences if eaten by humans or animals."

Officials from FDA provided briefings on the RFR to attendees at this month's Washington Public Policy Conference, including members of United’s Food Safety & Technology Council during a special town hall meeting at the administration's College Park, Md. facility.

For more information on the Reportable Food Registry, please contact Dr. Gombas at 202-303-3400, ext. 411.

Check Out Highlights from the 2009 Washington Public Policy Conference Online!

A complete recap of the 2009 Washington Public Policy Conference including highlights and photos is available by clicking here. Follow up on all the speakers, events and networking from three policy-packed days in Washington!





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