Stink bugs may not have quite the bite of a year ago, but growers are still far from confident in their ability to control the pest.

 

Big Apple of the Google Fresh Produce Industry Discussion Group posted this story about the threat of the brown marmorated stink bug, an import from the Far East in the 1990s. From the story in the Winnipeg Free Press:

In June, the Environmental Protection Agency allowed emergency exemptions for the use of powerful insecticides. Michael Raupp, an entomologist at the University of Maryland and a bug blogger, says the "stink bug is undoing 40 years of integrated pest management."

After causing an estimated $37 million in damage to the Mid Atlantic apple crop in 2010, the extent of damage this year from the pest is unknown. Recent coverage of the pest seem to indicate damage may be less severe this year - in large part because growers have sprayed more this year. Here is a nice feature from the Herald Mail on Tracy Leskey, stink bug expert working at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Appalachian Fruit Research Station in West Virginia.

 

The U.S. Government Accountability Office has issued a report called "Actions Needed to Improve Response to Potential Terrorist Attacks and Natural Disasters Affecting Food and Agriculture." The report really goes "into the weeds" of the issue and isn't that compelling of a read. The main message:"There is no centralized coordination to oversee the federal government’s overall progress implementing the nation’s food and agriculture defense policy."

So what will we do about that?

Also, check out the Sept. 13 hearing on this topic by the Senate Homeland Security subcommittee on investigations.

From the hearing, the prepared testimony of Colonel John Hoffman,  senior research Fellow
National Center for Food Protection and Defense, University of Minnesota, noted this:

The passage of the 2011 FDA Food Safety Modernization Act may prove to be the most substantial change to food safety and food defense in 50 years. This act, combined with the aforementioned progress will aid in further improvements in our ability to respond to accidental or intentional foodborne illness events.

While no additional funding was provided for its implementation, FDA is striving hard to develop the implementing regulations and guidance to the states and industry to facilitate the achievement of the act’s goals. Yet components of this law present substantial challenges to industry that may prove impossible obstacles to it full deployment. It now places the burden of protection of the infrastructure, and the food products it provides, against intentional act, to include terrorism and the potential use of weapons of mass destruction that exploit our food supply system, upon the private sector. This is a new responsibility for the sector that has many potential unintended consequences that must be considered before a reasonable implementation of the act can be fully complete.

Hoffman says disjointed oversight responsibilities among agencieas are also a concern.:

I have often asked a simple question of my colleagues in the various federal agencies responsible for some aspect of protecting this vital infrastructure. That question is “Who is in charge.” The answer is always something like “Well, actually no one is in charge of it all!” Even with the recent investment in response, our capability is modest and handicapped by this leadership gap.

He says our food system is vulnerable, as evidenced by lagging surveillance capabilities:

The unfortunate truth is that we, as a nation, lack effective surveillance for emergent, high consequence biological events, domestic as well as global. This is particularly true for high consequence foodborne illness events. At present, our primary detection capability is the emergency room.

As a result, our existing detection capability is effectively a “detect to respond” capability. Relying primarily on a response focused detection system is expensive, both in terms of financial impact and human suffering. Further, it adds to our overall national health cost problem. Adding to this burden is that the utility of food as a modality to facilitate crime, whether as a means to illicit gain or terrorism, is well demonstrated by recent events.

In the past few years we have seen criminal acts targeting food products such as the Economically Motivated Adulteration (EMA) of milk products from China with melamine. We have also seen law enforcement personnel in Iraq targeted by terrorists with contaminated food. Events such as the contamination of green peppers with Salmonella St. Paul from Mexico and the recent green sprout contamination with E Coli 0104:H4 in Germany both demonstrate the large geographic impact footprint, extensive casualties and political cost where just a limited quantity of one product in international trade is involved. This is not lost on our potential Jihadist adversaries. As an example of that the following is a translation provided by The Counter Agro Terror Research Center (CATRC) in Israel of a recent post to a Jihadist internet forum:

“I say, and may Allah help us to success, the qualities of the E. coli, as well as the ability to develop it into biological weapon, bio-engineered in a laboratory, make the E. coli a most attractive candidate and a significant element in biological warfare, spreading violently, and killing silently, irritating the enemies and tearing their guts apart.”

 

Sobering and frightening. Hoffman forcefully argues for the need to "detect to protect" early in the supply chain.

The discussion continues about the value of QR codes in the produce department. Here is a new comment on QR codes in the LinkedIn Fresh Produce Industry Discussion Group:

From Matt M.

As alluded to in Elliott's comment, I dont think we in the US have even scratched the surface of what QR codes are capable of. I think what will be necessary is an integration of QR code technology with POS technology to really make a splash. The advantage that NFC has over the QR codes is that the technology (where available) is already integrated as this technology has been pushed in large part by the credit card companies (ease of use = more revenue). Until there is some form of integration, I believe QR codes are simply a quick and easy way of linking consumers with information.