National Editor Tom Karst
National Editor Tom Karst

Is tomato peace really at hand?

There are reports that the U.S. and Mexico are nearing agreement on resolving the tomato dispute, with two out of three issues settled.  The remaining unsolved issue? The minimum price, of course!

The source for the Reuters story is a Mexican government official, which leads me to believe that the agreement is not as far along as advertised.

If true, however, a finalized agreement to update the tomato suspension agreement would be good news for the North American produce trade.

New trade statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show that U.S. tomato imports from Mexico from January through September totaled $1.23 billion, down 15% from $1.44 billion imported through the same period a year ago. While the value of Mexican tomatoes was down, the volume of Mexican tomato imports was up 4%, rising from 1.02 million metric tons from January through September last year to 1.06 million metric tons for the same period this year. As such,  statistics confirm that 2012 has been a tough price year for the industry, with volume rising but prices contracting significantly.

Check out the news release on the recent  Rabobank report on the future of berry demand in North America. It sounds an ominous note on production challenges:

California berry growers, most notably those in strawberries, are likely to face the biggest challenges as labor availability, crop protection, land resources and pricing all stand to adversely influence their profitability.

The termination of the USDA Microbiological Data Program is drawing lots of comments. Check out The Packer's coverage here.

Here are two classic reader comments, summing up the entire history of the program.

From Wilhelm:

Its a sad day. this little program was reported to test 80% of all the fresh produce tested by government agencies. That leaves FDA with less than 20% yet United Fresh wants testing in FDA? Is this because they don't want but very few samples tested? Afraid of what is found? FDA paid a lobbying firm to convince congressmen and senators not to support funding for MDP so no wonder the didn't put it in the budget. I repeat, its a sad day when industry can overide science and public policy and public good to serve their own interest. Shame on United Fresh! The new empire of Evil.


From Jennifer:

This was not a good program. Glad to see it gone. This program never protected public
health when the sample results took so long to be confirmed. Companies affected were
notified long after the product had been consumed. Those that want to see this type of
program continue need to support a program that will actually protect consumers, and this
was not it.


TK: Testing of produce for pathogens should be conducted by the FDA. The USDA's industry-friendly mission never squared with the way the program came to be run.  It is better for all concerned that it is no longer operating, provided sufficient safeguards are in place to provide an alert for any widespread contamination incident.


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