We forget a lot in a year, much less a decade

12/28/2012 10:31:00 AM
Greg Johnson

Year in ProduceWhen looking at a year-end top-story list, sometimes it’s as much about remembering as it is realizing how quickly you’ve forgotten about something and moved on to the next thing.

The failed PMA/United merger seems longer ago than just July, doesn’t it?

It’s also interesting to see how the industry has responded to the news.

As for 2012, there hasn’t been much time to see the industry response to top issues. For example, the Mexico/Florida tomato dispute is far from settled, and the nation awaits the results of the Food Safety Modernization Act and what another four years of an Obama administration will mean.

This Year in Produce special report holds the top 10 stories of the year as determined by The Packer staff. We vote and determine this every year.

The Year in Produce 2012
1 Chamberlain Farms cantaloupe outbreak.
2 Inaction on the Food Safety Modernization Act.
3 Mexico/Florida tomato war.
4 United Fresh/PMA merger fails.
5 Tainted mangoes cause widespread illness.
6 Michigan apple crop devastated.
7 Sprout illnesses force national chains into menu changes.
8 McDonalds, Wendy’s, other fast-food chains make fresh produce more of a priority.
9 School meals include more produce.
10 Locally grown produce movement continues to rise.

Ten years seems like a good amount of time to see how the industry responded to its biggest issues and news items, so I thought it would be worth looking at 2002’s top 10 stories as determined by The Packer.

1. PBH emphasizes 5 a Day the Color Way
The Produce for Better Health Foundation remains an important promoter of fruit and vegetable consumption, even though 5 a Day has been replaced by a new nutrition guide. The sad part is that Americans are more obese today than 10 years ago, despite all the promotion for healthy eating.

2. Iceberg prices skyrocket and other weather problems
Some things never change, and although lettuce wasn’t a weather victim this year, the northeast and Michigan apple crop was hit hard.

3. The tomato industry forms working group to head off future trade disputes
The North American Tomato Trade Work Group was more successful in promoting commodity specific food safety guidelines than in preventing trade problems, although it seems like it’s taken about 10 years for the “trade war” to heat up again. It’s back in 2012’s top 10 list at No.3.

4. U.S. export prospects to Cuba brighten
This item could be 1982 or 1992 or it seems 2022. Industry is always optimistic next year is the year Cuba is back in play, and it never is.

5. Produce makes progress in the farm bill
The 2002 farm bill represented serious gains for the first time for fresh produce. Hundreds of millions for fresh produce government purchases were authorized; market access funds were set at $100 million and rising; and the produce in schools program got its first funding. This was a huge precedent, as the industry got more funding in the 2008 farm bill, and now waits to see if the 2012 farm bill will get done.

6. USDA introduces the National Organic Program and seal
This isn’t the primary reason organic produce continues to rise in popularity and become mainstream, but the seal gives organic food the credibility it needs in the marketplace.

7. Food safety gets extra scrutiny in wake of Sept. 11 attacks
Food safety has gotten more important in the last 10 years, but it’s been E. coli, salmonella and listeria causing the most damage, not terrorists targeting the food supply, as we were afraid in 2002.

8. USDA lifts ban on Spanish clementines
As 2002 started, U.S. citrus growers wanted to keep the Spanish fruit out on a phytosanitary basis, but there were no doubt competitive reasons as well. Ten years later, U.S. growers were so good at producing clementines of their own, that they can’t keep up with consumer demand.

9. President Bush intervenes in West Coast port labor dispute.
The president used the Taft-Hartley Act. What else needs to be said?

10. U.S. bans Mexican cantaloupes
Mexican cantaloupes had salmonella outbreaks in 2000, 2001 and 2002, leading to the October ban. As the industry has seen the last two years, cantaloupe food safety remains a huge problem.

So that’s weather problems, trade disputes, government influence on produce and food safety the big topics 10 years ago. So much for change.



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