Issues. We all have them, but all puns aside, this time I’m talking about legislative issues. Last month, I not only had the opportunity to present the annual Grower Achievement Award to Stanley, NY’s Hansen Farms at the United Fresh Public Policy Conference in Washington, DC, I also had a chance to listen to speakers discuss some of the key issues facing growers today.
Even in a down economy, the phrase “people still have to eat,” has been heard repeatedly. In spite of that, growers also have several other “issues” they must deal with to stay afloat.
At this meeting, growers and other members of the fresh produce industry spent some time visiting their congressmen and senators on Capitol Hill to
discuss these issues. Specifically, the topics of concern, which will come as no surprise to any of you, included food safety and child nutrition — just to name two.
Ag Secretary Talks Nutrition
Tackling the topic of child nutrition was Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. Delivering a keynote address at the opening breakfast, Vilsack drove home his message on nutrition, particularly in schools.
“Part of your challenge,” Vilsack said to the crowd of more than 400, “is to make sure these youngsters make the right food choices.”
So, how are growers and others involved in the produce industry going to encourage increased consumption? Vilsack had an answer. He told the crowd to save a portion of the funds generally used for advertising and use those funds for public service announcements promoting produce consumption.
Vilsack pressed on, tying healthcare reform to the consumption of fruits and vegetables. “No matter how you structure healthcare reform, the way to bend the cost curve is to make sure we take better care of ourselves, and that includes more physical activity and better eating.”
Congressman Sam Farr, D-CA, who also spoke at the conference, agreed: “We do have a health crisis in this country,” he said. One thing we need to work on, Farr added, is to continue to work to provide fruits and vegetables in schools, and one way to do that is by putting salad bars in as many schools as possible.
An Ounce Of Prevention
During another presentation, Dr. Margaret Hamburg, commissioner of FDA, also said that fresh produce should be a staple — and it should be safe. She added that “dramatic improvement needs to be made in our food safety system and we need to prioritize prevention.”
Hamburg told the crowd that part of FDA’s agenda is to shift the emphasis away from removing unsafe product from the marketplace to keeping unsafe products from entering the market in the first place. She also made a point of saying that food safety measures will be “scale appropriate and not one-size-fits-all.”
Those last words are music to a grower’s ear, but I can’t help but wonder if there will be too much regulation coming. Last month, FDA opened the Reportable Food Registry Electronic Portal. According to FDA, food industry officials must use the electronic portal to alert FDA “when they find their products might sicken or kill people or animals.”
Too much regulation? You tell me. For more information on the portal, go to www.fda.gov/ReportableFoodRegistry.