I got to Washington D.C. on Wednesday, leaving on the eve of the big snow storm that walloped the city and kept nearly everyone at home Thursday (including The Packer staff). I had time to check in with the United Fresh Produce Association’s Lorelei DiSogra, Robert Guenther and Julie Manes, in addition to a visit with Frank Gasperini of the National Council of Agricultural Employers. I also checked in with the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service Administrator Chuck Parrott for an informal chat.
Several produce personalities are on hand at the USDA Ag Outlook show, including the PMA’s Kathy Means, Joel Nelsen of California Citrus Mutual and Dennis Nuxoll of Western Growers.
Talk of sequestration has been fairly big at the event, with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack showing his irritation with members of Congress who have pestered him seeking a hedge around their pet programs from the effects of the automatic budget cuts.
“Rather than write letters, how about writing a bill?” Vilsack said in a press conference at the event.
While nearly every economic forecast at the event was geared toward grains, livestock, sugar and cotton, there was some attention to produce. A produce and food safety session was held the afternoon of Feb. 21.
As I reviewed my notes of the session, it struck me that Hank Giclas of Western Growers stressed the concept of marketing food safety to consumers. Growers who are going through the expense of strict adherence to enforceable food safety standards want buyers to place a higher priority on supplier compliance with food safety standards.
It is clear that consumer-oriented groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest would like the produce rule to be even more expensive to implement than the FDA’s proposal would.
While generally giving a thumbs up to the produce safety rule, Sarah Klein, senior staff attorney, food safety program for the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Science in the Public Interest, said the group has a few points of difference with the FDA’s proposal.
In her remarks, Klein said the FDA’s produce safety proposed rule took an integrated approach to risk, evaluating agricultural practices applied to crops, with exemptions for lowest risk produce – produce commonly cooked before consumed. That integrated approach, she said, was better than taking a commodity-specific approach to produce safety based on outbreak data.