Archive for April 2009

Tuesday, April 28, 2009 by Kathy Means

Swine flu being carried by humans, not food (and that means not produce)

Rumors are circulating out there in Produce Land. Just to put it plainly: swine flu is not being transmitted by food. It is being transmitted like other flu or a cold, person-to-person, according to top officials in the U.S. government. There’s no reason to question fresh produce, regardless of where it is grown. And contrary to those rumors, the U.S.-Mexico border is open for trade. The border discussions being had at this point are more about the movement of people, not the movement of commerce.

PMA members received our issue alert on this topic earlier today. You’ll find it and other alerts – as well as instructions on how to sign up to get future alerts – here (scroll to the bottom of the page).

Monday, April 27, 2009 by Kathy Means

PMA learns administration priorities at White House food safety meeting

Members of the new White House Food Safety Working Group outlined their plans and priorities to industry stakeholders including PMA during an April 24 conference call.  On March 14, President Barack Obama announced the creation of the working group, chaired by the Secretaries of Agriculture and Health and Human Services to, to advise him on how to upgrade U.S. food safety laws for the 21st century, foster coordination throughout government, and ensure enforcement.

Officials from the working group stressed that the process will be inclusive, and mentioned the importance of using risk- and science-based efforts. They noted that the group will examine administrative actions, regulatory efforts (under existing authority), and the legislative process as it works to improve government-related food safety in the United States.

The group’s priority areas are:
* to prevent harm to consumers – verify and enforce existing rules;
* to enable risk analysis and detection – surveillance, notifications, better technology to link and manage food safety efforts;
* to implement risk-based inspections and enforcement, including verification that those inspected are following the rules; 
* to improve rapid outbreak response and recovery – seamless coordination with states and other countries as needed; and
* to ensure the proper workforce and infrastructure to be effective.

Officials acknowledged that this is a big task, saying though they have many resources, they know they don’t have all the information they need and new challenges will emerge. They said they want to see a robust dialogue on food safety.

We’re encouraged to see the Obama administration reaching out to stakeholders and taking a risk-based approach to food safety. PMA will remain engaged and involved in this process as the administration moves forward with this effort. Visit PMA’s Web site for food safety resources.

Friday, April 24, 2009 by Bryan Silbermann

Corsi, Silbermann meet with Congressional officials on food safety, local produce

On April 22, PMA Chairman Dave Corsi of Wegmans and I met with Keith Jones, staff director for the House Agriculture Committee’s Horticulture Subcommittee. He was eager to identify organic/local growers, like those that supply Wegman’s, who could testify about their ability to meet a supermarkets’ buying specification needs, especially in food safety area. We’ll work with him to provide real-world experience for the subcommittee which sometimes hears that small growers cannot meet food safety requirements. 

PMA rep Tom O’Brien, PMA President Bryan Silbermann, Board Chairman Dave Corsi, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, Shelley Feist of PFSE, Chris Waldrop of Consumer Federation of America.

O’Brien, Silbermann, Corsi, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, Shelley Feist of PFSE, Chris Waldrop of CFA.

That day we also met with Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) on consumer food safety education. Joining us were Shelley Feist of the Partnership for Food Safety Education, Chris Waldrop of the Consumer Federation of America, and PMA’s Washington D.C. representative Tom O’Brien. Here we reiterated our support of the Partnership and its Fight BAC! and Be Food Safe programs, and we asked for her support as well.

Friday, April 24, 2009 by Bryan Silbermann

PMA leaders visit White House, USDA on economy, sustainability

PMA Chairman of the Board Dave Corsi of Wegmans and I found good reception indeed this week when we visited key U.S. government offices April 22-23 to carry industry messages about economics, food safety and sustainability.

White House domestic policy staff showed great interest in PMA’s new economic impact study, which for the first time documents the industry’s substantial contribution to the U.S. economy. We also discussed nutrition issues at length, including concrete ways to fulfill the administration’s stated goal of increasing fresh fruits and vegetables in the American diet.

Pictured: PMA President Bryan Silbermann and Board Chairman Dave Corsi at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which houses offices for key White House staff.

Pictured: PMA President Bryan Silbermann and Board Chairman Dave Corsi at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which houses key White House office staff.

At a breakfast meeting with Kathleen Merrigan, we discussed sustainability, as well as how to better connect growers and consumers. Agriculture Deputy Secretary Merrigan even solicited our advice on how to improve use of produce in the USDA cafeteria, so that the department can carry its mission into its own cafeteria.

One of our goals for these meetings was to bring real-world industry experience to Washington, D.C. – in fact, Dave took that mission personally, presenting Ms. Merrigan with heirloom tomato plants from Wegmans’ own Organic Research Farm for the USDA People’s Garden and the White House Kitchen Garden.

We were pleased to be able to advance PMA’s ongoing work in Washington with Dave as we connect the industry with Washington – and particularly happy to talk about issues like sustainability on Earth Day. I’ll be sharing more about our trip later this afternoon here on the PMA Field to Fork blog.

 

Thursday, April 23, 2009 by Lee Mannering

Stemilt steps up local sustainability efforts

Recently a group of 65 Stemilt volunteers helped restore the waterfront near the company’s Olds Station facility back to its natural state by removing noxious weeds, non-native vegetation, and other debris along the 0.34 acre site, which is part of the Columbia river shoreline. They also planted 160 native species along the shoreline and across the top of a riverbank, spread bunchgrass seed, and put in biodegradable fabric for erosion control. To make the project a reality, Stemilt teamed up with several local agencies: the Chelan County Natural Resource Department, the Chelan County Public Utility Department, the Washington State Department of Transportation, and Selland Construction. For the full scoop, visit the sustainability stories page on PMA.com.

PMA believes sustainability is represented by the three “Ps”: planet (that is, environmental issues); people (social/labor issues); and prosperity (economic success). Efforts like Stemilt’s highlight both environmental concern and how to work with local organizations to get the job done. If you have a sustainability story to share, please let us know.

Thursday, April 23, 2009 by Lee Mannering

Are you ready to comply with the updated federal Prior Notice regulation?

To help food companies comply with its prior notice final rule that will go into effect May 6, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has published a fact sheet, a Powerpoint presentation, and a draft compliance policy guide on its Web site. The fact sheet includes information on several aspects of prior notice, including, but not limited to:

  • The foods included/excluded from prior notice requirements (hint: fresh fruits and vegetables are included);
  • when and how to submit prior notice;
  • how to correct prior notice information; and
  • where to turn for help.

The final rule implements section 308 of the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002 (the Bioterrorism Act), which requires that FDA receive prior notice of food imported into the United States. Prior notice can be submitted by using Customs and Border Protection’s Automated Broker Interface of the Automated Commercial System or FDA’s Prior Notice System Interface. FDA uses this information in advance of the arrival to review, evaluate, and assess the information, and determine whether to inspect the imported food.

Compliance with prior notice, as well as other segments of the Bioterrorism Act, is mandatory. Recently we wrote about a Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General’s report which found that some companies aren’t meeting Bioterrorism Act recordkeeping requirements.

Whether it’s prior notice or recordkeeping, PMA members are encouraged to visit the food security section of our Web site to learn more about how to comply with these important regulations.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009 by Kathy Means

Be counted in USDA’s organic production survey

The U.S. National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) will conduct an Organic Production Survey that looks at “many aspects of organic farming during the 2008 calendar year – from production and marketing practices, to income and expenses. It will focus not only on operations that are currently engaged in organic production, but also on those making the transition to organic agriculture.” NASS, a service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, reports the survey will be available in early May to known organic producers in the United States, with responses due by June 17. The service prefers electronic submissions, but you can also mail in a survey.

It’s important for the produce industry to be well-represented in this survey as the results will shape policy and funding decisions for the future. To receive the survey, NASS needs to know you exist. If you don’t believe you are on the list, simply fill out this form to let NASS know about your operation. For more information about the Organic Production Survey, visit www.agcensus.usda.gov or call (800) 645-7286.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009 by Kathy Means

New York Times: “I thought I was going to die”

An April 19 New York Times article sheds some public light on one of the challenges facing the effort to reduce foodborne illness: the wide disparity in capabilities of state departments of health in identifying and investigating foodborne illness outbreaks in the first place.

Foodborne illness investigations begin at the local and state levels. To make progress on speedier epidemiological efforts, we must have stronger efforts in those programs, as well as greater capacity and efficiency at state and local labs. To get all states to the same capability level would require lots of new resources, including a great deal of logistical coordination between state and federal health officials, field training for interviewers, standardized menu questionnaires, as well as all-important funding. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention must shepherd such an effort at baseline uniformity.

In addition to improvements to the investigation side of outbreaks, led by CDC and state/local public health offices, we also need improvements at FDA, which takes over once the outbreak and its likely cause have been identified.

PMA stands ready to help these efforts in any way possible. We are a member of the Alliance for a Stronger FDA, the goal of which is to provide FDA with sufficient resources to protect patients and consumers and maintain public confidence and trust in FDA. Both PMA President Bryan Silbermann and Chief Science Officer Dr. Bob Whitaker have discussed food safety priorities for FDA in detail. We also applaud House, Senate bills seeking to address FDA’s food safety oversight.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009 by Lee Mannering

When it comes to sustainability, PMA thinks globally, acts locally

Arriving in your mail soon is the brochure for this year’s Foodservice Conference & Exposition, July 24-26 in Monterey, CA. In addition to outlining this year’s outstanding event offerings, there’s something new about this year’s brochure: our choice of paper stock. Cougar, which is from Domtar’s EarthChoice line of paper stock, is sourced 90% from sustainable forests and 10% from post-consumer fiber. It is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council and Sustainable Forestry Initiative, and is endorsed by the Rainforest Alliance. Expect this and other sustainable papers to be used for all future PMA direct mail pieces (meanwhile, we’re also working to reduce the number of our mailings overall).

This is one of the many steps PMA is taking to become a more sustainable organization. If you’ve got a sustainability story to share, let us know.

Monday, April 20, 2009 by Kathy Means

Build young consumers for life around the world

We’re all familiar with and supportProduce for Better Health Foundation’s consumption-boosting programs targeting moms and their kids. PMA is making efforts to boost kids’ produce consumption through our collaboration with Scholastic on the Crunch the Numbers in-school curriculum. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is expanding its fruit and vegetable school snack program, thanks to the recent farm bill. And now this September, several European Commission member states will launch the European School Fruit Scheme, which has been under development for a couple of years.

According to the European Commission’s report on the project: “European funds worth €90 million (US$116 million as of mid-April) every year will pay for the purchase and distribution of fresh fruit and vegetables to schools. This money will be matched by national and private funds in those Member States which chose to make use of the programme. The School Fruit Scheme aims to encourage good eating habits in young people, which studies show tend to be carried on into later life. Besides providing fruit and vegetables to a target group of schoolchildren, the scheme will require participating Member States to set up strategies including educational and awareness-raising initiatives and the sharing of best practice. An estimated 22 million children in the EU are overweight. More than 5 million these are obese and this figure is expected to rise by 400,000 every year.”

PMA’s members, who hail from about 50 countries around the world, are in a unique position to enhance children’s health by working to increase fresh fruit and vegetable consumption. Be sure your own kids eat more produce, get involved in your local school system, and tie in to national and international programs that will boost kids’ consumption and make them consumers for life. It’s a great investment in the both public health, and the industry’s health.