October 15, 2009

In Today's Issue:

Stupak, Cardoza, Farr, Costa and FDA's Taylor Join United and CLGMA in Salinas Valley

Congressional Tour
Reps. Sam Farr (D-CA), center, and Bart Stupak (D-MI), far right, learn about the harvesting of spinach from grower Jerry Rava, far left.

United Fresh and the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement teamed up this week to host a delegation of congressional leaders and FDA officials on a tour of Salinas Valley leafy greens production and processing, and a roundtable discussion with local industry members.

United Fresh President Tom Stenzel and CLGMA CEO Scott Horsfall welcomed  Reps. Bart Stupak (D-MI), Jim Costa (D-CA), Dennis Cardoza (D-CA), Sam Farr (D-CA) and FDA's senior food adviser to the commissioner Mike Taylor to learn more about the industry's commitment to food safety, and the rigorous compliance measures in the leafy greens agreement.

Congressional Tour
From left, Bob Mills of Tanimura & Antle, United President Tom Stenzel, FDA's Mike Taylor, Reps. Sam Farr (D-CA), Bart Stupak (D-MI), Dennis Cardoza (D-CA) and California Food and Agriculture Secretary A.G. Kawamura discuss food safety and leafy greens.

"We really appreciate Taylor Farms serving as hosts of the tours, and the Grower Shipper Association of Central California for hosting the roundtable discussion," Stenzel said. "It's critical that these key policy officials understand clearly what our industry is doing in food safety, as they prepare new legislation and regulations that will shape our future.  Regulations are coming, and we want to make sure that those new rules are fair and equitable to all, are based on the best science possible, and provide a nationally credible standard that builds public confidence in our products, and drives uniform acceptance by retail and foodservice customers."

United Fresh will host a second California tour for FDA officials - including Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg - at San Miguel Produce in Oxnard next week.

Industry Leaders Join Forces in GAP Audit Harmonization Effort

Global Conference
Food safety leaders from around the produce industry discussed GAP Audit Harmonization at United's inaugural Global Conference on Produce Food Safety Standards in Las Vegas, Nev. last April.

A group of some 50 produce industry leaders from every stage of the supply chain came together this week to begin work on a major initiative to drive harmonization of standards and audits for Good Agricultural Practices.  The group was convened following widespread interest in harmonization voiced by industry leaders at the Global Conference on Produce Food Safety Standards held in conjunction with the United Fresh Produce Association convention in April.

The Produce GAP Harmonization Initiative is led by a steering committee chaired by Brian Kocher, president, Chiquita Brands North America.  A number of industry leaders participated in a conference call web meeting on August 18 to discuss the concept of GAP harmonization and a draft process to launch the initiative.  Since that time, a wide cross-section of produce grower-shippers, processors, distributors, foodservice operators, retailers and association representatives came together to express their support for the effort, and join the steering committee which held its first meeting September 22 in Atlanta.

"Produce business leaders clearly raised this need for harmonized GAP standards," Kocher said.  "This effort addresses one of our most important challenges - the proliferation of audits and standards that do nothing to improve overall food safety yet contribute to duplication, inefficiency and add unnecessary costs to consumers.  Tackling that challenge will require the participation of the industry as a whole, and I'm excited about the initial participation thus far."

At the meeting in Atlanta, steering committee members agreed on a vision and work plan for the effort, reinforcing its commitment to a totally open and transparent process that welcomes all industry players to participate.

"Our vision is to ensure the highest level of food safety protection for our consumers by ensuring that science-based GAP standards address the most critical prevention steps necessary, that the industry develop and embrace audits and checklists that are consistent in measuring these practices, and that these tools allow for rigorous independent validation.  Our goal is that one audit by any credible third party can be acceptable to all buyers," Kocher said.

As a next step, under direction established by the steering committee of business leaders, a broad technical working group will now be convened under the leadership of Suresh Decosta, McDonald’s Corporation and Dr. David Gombas, United Fresh senior vice president for food safety and technology. 

The technical working group will be open to all participants across the industry who are willing to join in the effort to develop harmonized GAP standards.  This is intended to be a broadly inclusive group of technical, QA, and food safety experts across the industry, ensuring representation of all points of view in its deliberations.  The technical working group will begin its efforts examining similarities and differences in all existing GAP standards in use, with a goal toward identifying specific areas of current alignment, and those areas requiring further work to get to a harmonized approach.  Ultimately, the working group will develop a consensus-based harmonized GAP standard for proposal back to the steering committee for review.

In looking ahead, both buyers and suppliers of produce on the steering committee agreed that for the ultimate outcome to be successful, a GAP standard must be globally recognized through a credible third-party auditing process, but also must be non proprietary and available to all producers and others for use in self audits and improving practices throughout the entire industry.  In addition, the standard must clearly be based on the best science available and a risk-based approach that reflects U.S. government public health regulation and guidance.

The first meeting of the technical working group will likely be scheduled in November.

A list of Steering Committee members providing leadership to this effort can be found by clicking here.  For more information about the Produce GAP Harmonization Initiative or to volunteer to serve on the technical working group, please contact Dr. David Gombas, 202-303-3400.

Specialty Crops Request More Climate Change Data

Blanche Lincoln AdministrationLast week, United Fresh and a coalition of specialty crop organizations sent a letter to incoming Senate Agriculture Chairman Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) requesting additional data on climate change. 

"Currently, the specialty crop industry in the U.S. comprises over 50 percent of total plant crop value at the farm gate.  However, despite the huge economic impact of this portion of the industry, USDA's climate change analyses have been relatively non-existent as compared to many of the other crops," said the October 8th letter.

Fresh fruits and vegetables carry a unique burden when it comes to energy consumption.

"Once our products leave the farm, fresh fruits and vegetables must be cooled continuously until they are consumed.  Accordingly, changes in the cost or supply of energy will have a disproportionate effect upon this part of the industry," said Kam Quarles, vice president of government relations and legislative affairs for United.

United Fresh is working with a task force of potentially-impacted users to assess the various components of climate change legislation and suggest beneficial changes.

"Increasing the cost of production and distribution of these nutritious products is a possible outcome of this legislation," Quarles continued. "Therefore, if Congress moves forward with this approach to climate change, it is essential that provisions be adopted to mitigate these unintended consequences on our industry." 

More Than 800 Test Recall Knowledge with United Quiz

NLGMAMore than 800 people participated in an email-based quiz earlier this month on recall preparedness sent out by United Fresh. The quiz was designed to raise awareness about United's final Training for a Recall, Communicating Under Fire course, to be held October 27-29, in West Palm Beach, Fla.

"The quiz provided a good look at how prepared our members are for the perilous situations presented during a foodborne illness outbreak and subsequent recall," said Victoria Backer, United Fresh senior vice president of member services. "We are excited that such a large number of leaders within the industry have food safety and crisis communications at the forefront of their minds, and we hope that more people will take a hard look at the level of recall and crisis readiness within their own businesses and make the necessary adjustments. Our upcoming recall training course and subsequent media training offers them the opportunity to do just that."

Sponsored by Syngenta, 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.

Space in the upcoming course is still available, and may be reserved by clicking here or contacting Julie Jacocks, United Fresh education coordinator, at 202-303-3400 ext. 405.

Congress Boosts Value of WIC Fruit and Vegetable Voucher for Moms

WICThe FY10 Agricultural Appropriations Bill passed by Congress last week provided a $2 boost in the value of the fruit and vegetable vouchers for 1.6 million WIC moms. This increase will bring the women's fruit and vegetable vouchers up to $10 per month as recommended by the Institute of Medicine.

United Fresh, in collaboration with the National WIC Association and the Food Research and Action Center, has worked intensely over the last five months to accomplish this policy change.  USDA will fast track the regulations governing the shift and state WIC agencies will likely implement this increase within the next three months.

This new benefit will be worth $41 million in additional fruit and vegetable purchases during this fiscal year.  A table estimating the value of this $2 monthly increase for fruits and vegetables for each state can be found here, highlighting the benefit to both WIC moms and the produce industry as a whole. In California, for example, the increase in voucher worth will mean an additional $7 million in produce sales for the state.

"United Fresh is thrilled with this increase for fruits and vegetables for WIC moms, but we remain fully committed and engaged in urging the Obama Administration and Congress to also increase the value of the children's fruit and vegetable vouchers which reach 4.7 million WIC children each month," said Dr Lorelei DiSogra, United's vice president of nutrition. For more information, contact Dr. DiSogra at 202-303-3400.

United Fresh Launches Search for Environmental/Sustainability VP

VP Search
From left, United Fresh Board Member and Bayer CropScience Horticulture Region Director John Smith, United Fresh President Tom Stenzel, and former United Chairman Tom Lovelace of McEntire Produce announce the establishment of the United Fresh Research and Education Foundation's Center for Global Produce Sustainability at the United Fresh 2009 convention in Las Vegas last April.

United Fresh has launched a search for a new vice president of environmental affairs and sustainability, reporting to President and CEO Tom Stenzel.

"This position will support our launch of the new Center for Global Produce Sustainability within our Foundation," Stenzel said. "With the founding support of Bayer Crop Science, we're in the process of developing the new Center's goals and objectives, and a new staff VP will help lead this effort. We're looking for someone with good experience in the environmental field who can help shape sustainability initiatives affecting the way the produce industry does business.  Adopting sustainability measures needs to be a business opportunity for our industry, not an inappropriate burden from either regulators or the marketplace."

All inquiries about the position should be directed to Fred Medero, managing director, Kincannon & Reed Global Executive Search at fmedero@krsearch.net.

New Member Welcome

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

  • Seidgep, LTD., Limassol, Cyprus
  • Triangle Package Machinery, Chicago, Ill.
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 at 831-422-0940 or Miriam Miller at 202-303-3410.

Upcoming United Fresh Events
Upcoming Events

News & Views


News and Views

GAO: Agencies Need to Address Gaps in Enforcement and Collaboration to Enhance Safety of Imported Food

7-11 tests plastic stay-fresh wrap on its bananas

Louisiana citrus farmers looking out for harmful insect

University of Missouri researchers study native Missouri fruit

North Carolina farmers fear hail storm, low prices have hurt them


High winds hit Australian fruit

New apple variety discovered in UK

Malaysian authority to fully implement e-grading system for fruit exports by 2010

British Columbia apple crop damaged by arctic blast

Experts panel in India approves genetically modified vegetable

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