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Perishable Pundit
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American Food & Ag Exporter

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California Strawberry Industry
Moves To Make Food Safe

With the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative promising to move from lettuce and leafy greens on to other commodities and the general sense that food safety outbreaks are becoming more of a problem and more unacceptable to government and to consumers, smart people around the industry are getting their ducks in a row.

Some of these efforts are on a state-by-state basis, and we did a Pundit’s Pulse that profiled how New Jersey has put together a group to deal with these issues.

In addition, many commodity-specific groups are looking to get ahead of the curve. For example, the California Strawberry Commission announced that it is going to host a Food Safety Summit:

FOOD SAFETY SUMMIT TO BE HOSTED ON FEBRUARY 6
BY CALIFORNIA STRAWBERRY COMMISSION

Food safety experts to discuss challenges and solutions

Watsonville, California — Food safety has long been a top priority for the California strawberry industry, which is not resting on successful status-quo procedures. That’s why the California Strawberry Commission (CSC) is hosting the California Strawberry Food Safety Summit at the Monterey Conference Center, Tuesday, February 6, from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“With renewed emphasis on food safety, the Commission continues its leadership role in helping growers produce safe, wholesome strawberries,” says CSC President Mark Murai.

This unique educational Summit will bring together California strawberry industry leaders, prominent experts and regulators who are responding on the front lines of food safety crises. Scheduled program speakers are:

Of course, the California Strawberry Commission was already running hard on this issue. The Commission created a new Issues and Food Safety Committee to build on its pre-existing Food Safety Program, which was adapted in 1998 and revised in 2005.

To learn what the California Strawberry Commission is doing and how its efforts might serve as a model for many other commodity specific groups, we asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, Mira Slott, to find out more:

Mark Murai, President
California Strawberry Commission
Watsonville, California

The California Strawberry Commission (CSC), Watsonville, California, is set to unveil an aggressive strategic food safety action plan backed by significant dollars and challenging deadlines for this year at its annual board meeting next Thursday in Newport Beach, California, according to Mark Murai, President.

A Food Safety & Security Committee meeting held January 10 put the finishing touches on the upcoming summit, says Murai. “Our audience will be high level executives at each of the shipping and processing companies in the strawberry industry and their food safety experts, and, of course, regulators and legislatures.”

No buyers will attend at this point, he says, “but we’re going to have a media room for on site interviews.” A mini trade show will highlight food safety testing, monitoring and traceback solutions.”

Q: What is the commission’s food safety strategy?

A: Back in July, before the spinach crisis, our new chairman Tom Jones, and the board of directors recognized that while we’d made strides in food safety and were one of the first commodity boards to institute a food safety program, it wasn’t satisfactory. He took the issue so seriously he formed a new food safety committee comprised of food safety experts and board members to set strategic direction. He appointed Ed Kelly, former chairman of the board, to chair it.

Since the outbreaks, there is a new sense of urgency on where we are going to focus investments to make our product and industry safer. We have a very good track record, but we cannot be complacent and stick our head in the sand on this. We want to be part of the solution. The commission is going to invest significant time and resources to come up with solutions. We’ve made some changes already, and are putting other components in process this year, including major dollars toward a research initiative that will investigate food safety, hopefully to help our industry as well as other commodities.

Q: Are you working with other commodity groups?

A: To be frank, it’s a top priority for all ag commodities. We are allying with other commodity groups, discussing how we can work together. Definitely, we need to share information and increase awareness of common problem areas.

Every commodity-specific group has to identify the risks of its commodity and associated growing practices and how possible contamination can happen, look where possible risks or pathways are so we can close those gaps. Every crop, unless grown inside a greenhouse, has the same or parallel issues. The ag industry has to work collectively with all different commodities to close the gap. It is unacceptable what happened with the spinach outbreak. Our industry is taking it very seriously, and even before the spinach outbreak, we recognized that food safety is a top priority.

Everybody has a heightened awareness since the recent outbreaks, and companies in all produce categories and areas of the supply chain will become more focused on food safety. We don’t need a rush to change. We need a sense of urgency to move the process along, to put in good science projects to develop guidelines or recommendations to help producers in all areas of the cold chain.

At this time, we are looking at applicable components within the leafy greens initiative, but it will take more analysis on what those programs will provide. We understand that any changes and substantive steps forward will have to come from within our industry.

Q: Science-based solutions take time. Doesn’t the industry need to implement meaningful changes now?

A: You want to keep it science-based. In the end that will be the foundation. You must make sure decisions don’t come from emotion and opinions. There has to be research done. I am concerned when you speed ahead to make change, you don’t just put on more regulatory economic hindrances that in the end don’t result in a true influence on the safety of the product. Food safety protocols have to originate from scientific testing and analysis so that regulations will actually have a bottom line effect on producing safe, wholesome product.

Every company and shipping organization or farm has had a different level of urgency and strength of systems in place. There have been a lot of strides forward. All are part of our initiative, but each company has its own specific level of what they’re doing.

Q: So science-based solutions are the foundation, yet only the catalyst for change?

A: Food safety needs to be part of our culture, like breathing, not something deadline-driven that we’ve accomplished and that’s it. We’ve been evolving our program since the 1990s. We want to make it stronger, and there will never be an end to that. Not only do we sell to others, we take this product home to our families and eat it. Produce is our livelihood. I’m a third-generation strawberry grower. That’s what we do for a living, but it is also engrained in who we are.

Every step of the chain has to be examined and an assessment made of how it’s affecting risk. Scientists, growers, processors, shippers, people involved in third party audits, we have to look at the whole system, seeing what everyone can add to it. All angles have to be explored. Everyone has the same priority and goal in mind. You can’t put in government regulations that don’t have any substance backing them up. Let’s do this in a way that makes sense so it doesn’t create undue burden.

Q: But with heightened consumer concern and the government breathing down its neck, the industry is under the gun to come up with solutions now.

A: Look what happened recently with Taco Bell. The company rushed to judgment in an effort to quell consumer concern and falsely reported green onions were the source of the outbreak. Wait a second. Be sure you’re dealing with sound science before wrongly accusing a whole industry. Food safety problems need to be addressed with laser focus, not a shotgun approach.

Q: Unfortunately, the strawberry industry is no stranger to being wrongly accused in food safety outbreaks. Has this influenced your stance?

A: We were wrongly implicated in a couple of outbreaks in the 1990s. It was very disconcerting, especially because the products associated with the outbreaks were Guatemalan raspberries and Mexican strawberries. In 1996, we were wrongly implicated in the cyclospora outbreak, which ended up to be Guatemalan raspberries. And in 1998 we were again unfairly accused of being responsible for a Hepatitis A outbreak, which turned out to be a frozen strawberry issue. The damage in both these cases was devastating to the industry’s reputation and resulted in tremendous loss of sales.

Alert the public of a problem, but let’s not penalize complete industries and take down the whole commodity for outbreaks with isolated causes.

Q: In some ways, forming partnerships and opening communications between groups could play an important role in breaking down barriers and finding positive solutions without pointing fingers.

A: A major component in our food safety initiative is developing closer connections with our growers this year, personal contact, not just putting a binder out and announcing on our website it’s available. We want to be part of the learning process, go out in the field to help growers get the tools they need to make a difference. It comes down to our grower meetings and supervisor training, not just what’s happening at the high level positions. The guys on the ground getting their boots dirty are the ones that execute on a daily basis.

Food safety has always been a concern of the farmer, and by that we mean taking steps to do the right things. Just mandating new regulations and requirements in a vacuum from above undermines morale and doesn’t take into consideration that the farmer is willing to make a difference. The solution to food safety has to come from all of us.

You can hear the earnestness of Mark’s plea to make science the arbiter of what is done in food safety. Working with an industry that has been severely damaged when people jumped the gun, the desire to move expeditiously, but only when justified by science is palpable.

The problem, though, is that we may not have the science right now that allows us to know that some certain action will prevent a future outbreak.

Our piece, FDA’s Money Problems, highlighted the limitations of our knowledge.

One thing is certain: The specific protocols needed are likely to be commodity-specific, so these commodity-specific efforts are really essential, and the California Strawberry Commission deserves a hand for being proactive and focused.

To some extent, the real question is what is really supposed to come of these efforts? Are we satisfied with improving food safety or is the only adequate outcome that there never be another outbreak?

Many in the industry think the world really won’t find any outbreaks acceptable and so they endorse “kill steps,” such as irradiation, which we discussed, most recently, right here.

Strawberries (albeit Florida-grown strawberries) have been the subject of consumer acceptance studies on irradiation:

Consumer response to irradiated foods has been positive. In March 1987, test markets of irradiated Hawaiian papayas in two Southern California stores outsold the non-irradiated product by more than 10 to 1. During the first quarter of 1993, Carrot Top, Inc. in Northbrook, Illinois, reported irradiated strawberries outsold non-irradiated berries by a ratio of 20 to 1 when consumers were provided information on food irradiation. This store currently sells irradiated strawberries, Vidalia onions, and chicken to consumers.

In July 1993, Laurenzo’s Market and Italian Grocery in Miami, Florida, reported selling their first shipment of irradiated poultry (approximately 1,200 pounds) at a rate of 100 pounds of poultry per day initially followed by 40 to 80 pounds per day thereafter. The store offers irradiated as well as non-irradiated poultry to its customers. The irradiated poultry make up approximately 10 percent of the store’s total poultry sales.

These results indicate that informed consumers like and will buy irradiated foods. The reasons consumers choose irradiated foods are safety from food poisoning bacteria, increased shelf life, and superior product quality. For instance, strawberries stored in the refrigerator normally mold after 5 days. However, strawberries treated with 1 kGy of irradiation have been found to be free of mold after 25 days in the refrigerator). To date, no single test market of irradiated foods has been unfavorable when the consumer has been provided information about food irradiation.

So the question remains. Efforts such as the California Strawberry Commission are making will make food safer. Is safer food sufficient? Or is there another standard we must obtain? On this question hangs a great deal.




Wal-Mart Needs To Take
Lessons From Tiffany And HEB

After publishing our piece, Hormel, Wal-Mart And The Meaning Of Upscale, the Pundit took some flack for writing these lines:

Wal-Mart doesn’t need a branding consultant. It needs a sociologist who will explain that what upscale consumers want most in their life is the one thing Wal-Mart can never deliver: To NOT be associated with the people who shop at Wal-Mart.

Turns out that that an important upscale retailer, Tiffany & Co., doesn’t find the concept so ridiculous. The Wall Street Journalran a piece entitled Fashion Victim: To Refurbish Its Image, Tiffany Risks Profits. A subtitle explains After Silver Took Off, Jeweler Raises Prices To Discourage Teens.

The article explains that Tiffany’s had benefited by selling a great deal of highly profitable, relatively inexpensive, but high-margin, silver jewelry. But problems were starting to become evident as teenage girls swarmed to buy items such as the $110 silver charm bracelet:

In the winter of 2000, Carolyn Cippoletti headed to a Tiffany’s to buy a silver necklace for her 12-year-old daughter. She was surprised by jostling crowds. “There was nobody in the diamond section — everyone was in the silver jewelry,” says the New City, N.Y., resident. “I felt like I was in Macy’s.”

People inside the company debated the problem for months. “Some people would look at it one way and say, ‘If every 16-year-old gets her silver jewelry from Tiffany, they’ll eventually want their engagement ring from Tiffany 10 or 20 years later’,” says Mark Aaron, Tiffany’s vice president of investor relations. But “what if some of those teenagers fill up their jewelry boxes with Tiffany silver, and as they get older, they perceive Tiffany as where they got their teenage jewelry?”

Everyone knew how beneficial lower-end silver was to Tiffany’s bottom line. Any effort to curb it could dramatically slow sales and affect profitability — and likely upset shareholders.

Ultimately, the company says it relied on focus groups to make the decision. Complaints about crowding were beginning to appear in internal consumer research. The research also flagged concerns that Tiffany’s brand was becoming too closely associated with inexpensive silver jewelry. “We didn’t want the brand to be defined by any single product,” says Mr. Kowalski.

In 2002, Tiffany began aggressively raising prices on the pieces most popular with teenage girls, particularly the Return to Tiffany charm necklace and bracelet.

You can always make an argument for whatever you want to do it life and so, predictably, Wall Street was not thrilled when Tiffany & Co. eventually made the strategic shift public:

“By becoming less affordable to this aspirational customer, Tiffany risks alienating her when she returns for later milestones,” Goldman Sachs analyst Adrianne Shapira wrote in a 2004 research note. “If Tiffany is viewed as too expensive for smaller ticket purchases, then more substantial purchases might be sought elsewhere.”

It is a theory. However, the fact that most people can’t afford a Ferrari or a Bentley as their first car doesn’t seem to prevent them from buying them when their ship comes in.

Wall Street opposes this kind of move for the same reason most executives wouldn’t do it. The incentive plans all these people work under pay them to generate profit in the next few years by destroying long-term brand equity. There is a lot of ruin in a brand, and most of these people will be long retired before the degradation of the brand outweighs the earnings boost from selling the low priced stuff.

Tiffany & Co. must have had some exceptional leadership and a strong culture to make the decision to lose short-term profits to save the brand.

The lesson of all this is that the so called “mass affluent” market is a contradiction in terms. What upscale buyers want is exclusivity.

So Wal-Mart’s initiative to move upscale, while maintaining its client base, is impossible. It has to choose.

Of course, for a downscale retailer, an upscale division can give the whole operation a “halo effect” — if you want to see this at work, just go to Texas and visit a Central Market. It is one reason HEB is such a tough competitor for Wal-Mart. Every HEB store basks in the reflected glory of the Central Market concept. It motivates employees, suppliers, the media, politicians and consumers.

Yesterday, we talked about Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott’s situation. He should follow the advice the Pundit gave in the piece we linked to above:

If it feels its growth is constrained because it has saturated the market in many places for consumers who live paycheck to paycheck, it shouldn’t knock its head against the wall trying to convince upscale consumers to buy amidst their downscale brethren. It should develop a separate store concept.

Tiffany & Co. provide a case study for why the Wal-Mart plan won’t work. Central Market provides a case study of what can.




Oh, No! U.S. Watercress Has A
Salmonella Problem In Ireland

Uh oh, now food safety problems in the U.S. produce industry are affecting our friends in Ireland. There has been a recall that Irish authorities believe can be traced to U.S. produced watercress.

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland made an announcement of a Salmonella problem:

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) today advised a product recall is being carried out on Florette branded Watercress 75g bag and Florette branded Spinach, Watercress & Rocket 130g bag ready-to-eat salads. Consumers are being asked to check the use by dates on these products if they purchased them from Irish retailers between Friday, 5th January and Wednesday, 10th January 2007. The products are being recalled due to the presence of Salmonella in some affected batches which presents a risk to consumers’ health.

The FSAI has contacted food business operators in Ireland known to have received the affected products to ensure they have been withdrawn from sale. The FSAI is continuing to monitor the withdrawal.

According to Mr. Jeffrey Moon, Chief Specialist Environmental Health, FSAI, consumers should not consume the affected product.

“These products have been widely available through retail stores throughout the country and we have concerns that the products could cause food poisoning if consumed. These products are ready-to-eat, so the risk posed is that the Salmonella would not be destroyed before consumption. Any consumer who has a bag of the affected product is advised to dispose of it or return it to the store where it was purchased. Consumers who may have already consumed these products and are feeling unwell, should seek medical advice,” says Mr. Moon.

The source of the contamination is thought to be the watercress which originated from the US , and was subsequently packaged and distributed to the Irish market by the UK company Florette, that initiated the withdrawal.

How do they know it was the U.S. produced watercress? And at what point did the watercress get salmonella on it? Who supplied the watercress? Is there a problem anywhere else with watercress? If any of our Irish readers can provide additional information, it is certainly appreciated.

One point this reminds us of is that we need science-based food safety standards so they will be respected around the world. It doesn’t take too many food safety outbreaks to cause markets to shut their doors.

Apologies from America to our readers in Ireland. We earnestly hope nobody falls ill.




AgJobs Take 2

There was a Congressional Press Conference on the reintroduction of the AgJobs bill and United Fresh applauded:

At a congressional press conference today, United Fresh Produce Association (United Fresh) saluted members in the House and Senate for their reintroduction of the Agricultural Job, Opportunity, Benefits and Security Act (AgJOBS), a bipartisan agricultural labor reform package that would provide needed reorganization of the H-2A Agricultural Labor Program and address the need to adjust the status of current illegal workers, providing a compromise on the two major issues facing agricultural labor.

Kelly Henggeler,
Henggeler Packing Company
Fruitland, Idaho,
current Chairman of
US Apple Association.

Participants in the press conference included Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Larry Craig (R-ID), Edward Kennedy (D-MA), and Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and House members Howard Berman (D-CA), Jim Costa (D-CA), George Radanovich (R-CA), and Mike Thompson (D-CA). The press conference also incorporated produce industry representatives including United Fresh member and current Chairman of the U.S. Apple Association, Kelly Henggeler of Henggeler Packing Company from Fruitland, Idaho.

“Meaningful immigration reform is one of United Fresh’s top legislative priorities, and today’s introduction of a bipartisan agricultural package represents an important step toward reaching that goal,” said Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for United Fresh. “Our nation as a whole depends on a stable workforce for the timely harvest of fresh fruits and vegetables, and that stability is crucial to United Fresh members’ efforts to supply safe, high-quality produce to their customers,” said Guenther. “The current H-2A program has not been reformed in more than 50 years and is ineffectual in many regions of the United States. The comprehensive reforms of the AgJOBS legislation meet the needs of both agriculture and labor communities, and thus has garnered strong backing from both groups,” Guenther stated.

Toni Scully, owner of Scully Packing Co., a pear farm and packing company in Lake County, California. The photo beside her is of Toni Scully’s farm, a mountain of overripe pears that were never picked and packed due to labor shortages last season.

The legislation also represents careful negotiations involving agriculture interest, farm employer representatives, worker advocates, Members of Congress, and others. “AgJOBS also represents years of negotiations and strong advocacy efforts by many United Fresh members, and we applaud both the House and Senate members who participated in today’s press conference. There is still much more to be done, and we will continue to work closely with congressional supporters to build additional support for AgJOBS in the House and Senate,” added Guenther.

PMA also reaffirmed its support. Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association applauded Florida lawmakers for their role in the introduction of the bill.

John McClung, President and CEO of the Texas Produce Association, also reaffirmed the Texas trade’s support for AgJobs in an e-mail to the Pundit.

The Texas Produce Industry, Texas Citrus Mutual and the Texas Vegetable Association have been vigorous supporters of AgJobs from the beginning. We see it as a reasoned, rational and effective way to solve the multiple problems that are consistently lumped into “immigration reform.” We have said that securing the borders is elemental, but that there’s no reason Congress can’t produce a credible guest worker program at the same time it takes the steps necessary to minimize illegal immigration.

This is an issue that is close to home in the Rio Grande Valley. My house is exactly one third of a mile from the river, in a rural area that is fairly heavily vegetated so the illegals often choose the road in front of our home in the hopes of avoiding la migra. Just last night, shortly after dark, I was out in front and four young guys, obviously illegals, went trotting up the road. Point is, I have a personal interest in immigration reform and border security that exceeds the average. And the obvious answer, once you get past the dead end ideologues in the House, is that we need a foreign worker program that works and we need to regain the rule of law at the borders. Politically, we believe we’ll only get both if they pass the Congress as a package.

As has been widely observed, the flipping of Congress to a Democratic majority will make getting a smart law a lot more likely. Fortunately, the White House has been in the right place on this issue all along, so we don’t have a hurdle there. However, the Administration also has been reluctant to really twist Congressional arms on this, in large part because much of the Republican conservative base is sceptical. Passage will require a real push from the President.

A couple of points that are important but that often get drowned out in the debate:

  • Agriculture — including the produce sector — generally agrees that there should be stiff penalties for employers who demonstrate a pattern of hiring illegal workers. But before you can really punish these folks, you have to have a functional way for them to determine who’s legal and who is’nt. As you know, what happens now is that illegals can buy false documents from many places, and employers are in violation of the law if they question those documents. That’s nuts. We must have a dependable vetting system before we can control illegal migration, because only the denial of jobs will ultimately curtail such migration. At the end of the day that may well mean a national ID card, which seems to stir all sort of passions for reasons I can’t fathom.
  • We need a day crossing program, which at the moment is not part of AgJobs. There are many Mexican workers who can find employment within 100 miles of the border who can — and do — cross daily and return home at night. But the current system is awkward and difficult. There are ways to fix this situation legislatively, and we’re working on the issue.
  • “The Fence.” Of all the feckless notions the anti-amnesty crowd came up with the last term of Congress, the fence was the most outrageous. So guess what legislation the Congress did pass? Go figure. Fortunately, funding was never approved and it appears no literal fence will happen. We may wind up with a few miles of “actual” fence in urban areas, but it seems that for the most part we’re headed for “virtual” fencing along most of the border. By the way, does that include the Canadian border, which covers a lot more miles than the 2,000 mile southern frontier? Of course not!

So, bottom line is we will work for passage of AgJobs or whatever version of that concept emerges once Congress does what Congress does. It looks like most of the early action will be in the Senate — the House got its ears pinned back last term and seemingly will wait to see what comes out of the other chamber (although AgJobs was introduced in both the House and Senate: S: 237 and H.R. 371. We’ll have a better idea of where things stand after the ACIR/NCAE flyin January 23-25.

ACIR is the Agricultural Coalition for Immigration Reform, which is a single issue coalition staffed primarily by the American Nursery & Landscape Association and NCAE, which is the National Council of Agricultural Employers. United, PMA, and all the regionals have coalesced under that banner. In fact, according to ACIR, there are “nearly 300 national, regional, state, and local organizations whose members produce fruit and vegetables, nursery and greenhouse crops, dairy products, poultry, livestock, and Christmas trees.”

John McClung is always a straight shooter who tells it like it is.

The politicos all report that with the switch in Congress to the Democrats, the chances for the bill’s passage are much improved. But that doesn’t mean it will be easy.

The issue is a big one and the needs of agriculture are just one component of the national debate on immigration. We’ve dealt with the subject here and found that even within the industry there are mixed feelings.

Part of the problem is that the government just has no credibility anymore on this issue. Here is a piece the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association ran in its newsletter in March of 1981:

The Select Commission on Immigration in Washington, D.C., has recommended vast changes in the nation’s immigration laws. These changes include: giving “amnesty” to three million illegal immigrants who entered the U.S. before January 1, 1980; making it a crime to employ an illegal alien; and having much stronger border enforcement. These recommendations were included in the final report of the commission.

The commission, headed by Notre Dame University President Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, designed proposals that would keep the channels of legal immigration open while seeking to put a stop to border jumping and other forms of illegal entry.

Obviously it didn’t work out as promised. The Pundit thinks it is still going to be difficult to get this law passed unless this credibility gap is overcome. We gave our suggestions on how to do that here

Fortunately the industry isn’t just waiting for a political solution. We talked about a mechanical grape harvesting system here and the cover story of California Farmer this month is entitled Labor Answers. The cover story explains:

“The most exciting development,” says Sutton, “is a mechanical harvester for head lettuce. We have two prototypes out in the field, and growers look at them and say, ‘That’s nice, but we need this, this and this.’ So we go back to the shop and make the changes they need to make the system work, and in a few years, I predict the harvest of head lettuce will be fully mechanized.”

We can push the politics but we better push the mechanization at the same time.




Pundit’s Mailbag — The Tyranny Of
Economics And The Goals Of Fairtrade

Our piece reporting that a chain in the United Kingdom had announced a decision to go 100% fair-trade on bananas, entitled Sainsbury’s Commits To Fairtrade But Is It Fair For Everybody, continues to draw letters.

In fact we published a letter from Marc De Naeyer, Managing Partner of TROFI in The Netherlands that pointed us to a lengthy piece in The Economistanalyzing not only Fairtrade but organics and the concept of food miles.

Now, one of our regular correspondents happens to be a “Fair Trade Certified Importer” and he sends us a letter:

In the 12/22 Pundit’s Mailbag — Fairtrade From A European Perspective, the argument that customers’ choosing to pay more, in order to better compensate farmers, is contributing factor in depressing prices seems a bit far-fetched.

Isn’t it possible that if the Fairtrade idea gets to the point where it represents a significant part of the overall production of a crop, and growers are all trying to get on board, producing beyond the demand, that this diversification into other crops — or other occupations — will occur as a natural development?

Is the Fairtrade movement encouraging farmers to grow more high-priced bananas that they can’t sell? Or more lower-priced bananas that they can’t sell?

Maybe Marc De Naeyer sees it accurately. I’ve never gotten a very good handle on economics. It just didn’t quite sit right — Also — can’t seem to resist splitting hairs — A European Perspective seems like a somewhat misleading title, since isn’t Fairtrade considerably more pop ular in Europe than in the US? There are bound to be people in Europe who don’t approve of the Fairtrade movement, but are they concerned for the plight of the poor farmer? Maybe…

— Bob Sanderson
Jonathan’s Sprouts

Alas, the economics are unassailable here. Of course, paying more to an individual farmer helps that particular farmer. So, assuming, and it is a big assumption, that the money actually goes to the farmer — not the retailer, importer, exporter, corrupt local kingpins, etc. — doing Fairtrade will help some individuals.

We should caution though that our belief is that only a fraction of the money intended will wind up with the farmer. The problem is that paying above market to some farmers and not to others transforms them into lottery winners. And corruption is almost inevitable.

The Pundit has a friend who handed a landlord $50,000 in “key money” in order to get a lease on a below-market rent-controlled apartment in New York City. In other words, the guy who gets to decide who gets to win the “lottery” of getting a rent-controlled apartment demanded a share of the winnings. It is illegal. But almost certain to happen. And note: there are no records to prove the corruption.

Yet, even if the money somehow reached the farmer, it would help that farmer, but not the world.

The reason farmers get substandard returns is because production is too high compared to demand. What we need is for the least efficient producers to go out of business, reduce the available supply of bananas and thus lead to a rise in prices to a sustainable level. Yet the very purpose of Sainsbury’s effort is to keep in business Caribbean banana growers who otherwise are so inefficient they would go under. This increases world banana production from what it would have been, yet does nothing to increase demand. So, inevitably, it impoverishes farmers in other banana growing regions.

That is not the end of the sadness. If this extra money now being paid to the Caribbean banana growers were not spent that way, it would be spent on something else: So some poor guy in Bangladesh loses his job making socks because people buy less since they spent their money on expensive bananas. Now the Caribbean banana growers (or whoever actually gets the Fairtrade premium) will spend more but the net is likely to be highly negative because the transfer is to support an inefficient enterprise.

Bob asks if the potential growth of the Fairtrade movement might ameliorate these effects? In fact the growth will compound the effects. The more Fairtrade dollars out there, the more overproduction there will be.

Just look at the EU and US and the effect of price supports on agricultural commodities. This is how we got warehouses of cheese, lakes of wine, storehouses of grain.

And the whole thing, incidentally, only benefits those individuals who happen to own property when the regime is put in. If the whole world decided to guarantee profitable banana production, the effect of this would be capitalized in the value of land suitable for banana growing. So any new entry into the business would have to pay a price for land or for a lease that assumes this guaranteed profit. That new farmer would benefit little, if at all.

That European critics of Fairtrade are less deeply concerned for poor farmers around the world seems unlikely to the Pundit. The Pundit doesn’t give money to street people not because we don’t care but because it encourages people to live on the street — a position from which advancement is difficult. But we support other efforts to help people.

Equally, encouraging people to produce products they can’t produce economically is not likely to help people or countries in the long run.

Very often people like to feel good about themselves by doing what is considered to be the right thing. Whether it actually is the right thing is another question entirely.




Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative
Recap XXVIX

There is an ad-hoc group that started it all, the National Restaurant Association has its group working on a program and the Food Marketing Institute held a conference. All these buyer-led initiatives can get confusing, so to assist the trade in keeping track of them all, we are publishing this recap of coverage all in one place.

As new developments, occur we will continue to update this recap to help keep the trade organized on this important subject.

On September 25, 2006, in the midst of the spinach crisis, we published The Role of Retailers And The Future Of Food Safety, which pointed out that it is the “representations and warranties” that buyers demand that define the food safety programs we get:

“…in the end, the strength of our food safety systems is at least as dependent on what retailers demand as they are on what the government does for the simple reason that what retailers pay for is what they are going to get.”

Then in the issue of the Pundit’s sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS, which was unveiled at the PMA Convention in San Diego on October 21, 2006, we published Food Safety Is A Retail Issue, which pointed out:

“…what holds suppliers back is not that they need an FDA regulation — it is that they need to see a willingness on the part of buyers to pay more to obtain a higher level of food safety and security. So far that is missing.”

The Buyer-led Initiative for Food Safety was then announced. In time it came to be signed on to by nine important buying organizations:

Ron Anderson, Safeway, Inc.
David Corsi, Wegman’s Food Markets
Gary Gionnette, Supervalu Inc.
Reggie Griffin, Kroger Company
Mike Hansen, Sysco Corporation
Gene Harris, Denny’s Corporation
Frank Padilla, Costco Wholesale
Greg Reinauer, Amerifresh, Inc.
Tim York, Markon Cooperative

Here at the Pundit, we applauded the buyer-led effort but on October 30, 2006, ran a piece entitled Buyer-Led Food Safety Effort Leaves Open Question Of Buyer Commitment, in which we pointed out:

“What would be helpful from these buyers is…a reassurance to the grower/shipper/packer/processor community that investments in food safety will be protected.”

As Gene Harris of Denny’s added his endorsement to the Buyer-led Initiative for Food Safety, we published, Pundit’s Mailbag — Denny’s Weighs In On Food Safety Effort on November 1, 2006, and we pointed out that the Western Growers Association was now looking for mandatory standards:

“Buyers can impose standards on their suppliers, but it seems as if the big grower members of WGA are more inclined to go with a mandatory program. Perhaps because this is more easily “saleable” to consumers, perhaps because the growers have no confidence that buyers will ever agree to a uniform standard on food safety and, perhaps, because growers know that buyers today can have the best of intentions but situations change and buyer’s change — and if legal product is available for much less money, that will put a lot of pressure on an organization to change its standards.”

On November 2, 2006, we highlighted an Opportunity For Buyers’ Food Safety Initiative, where we wrote the following:

“Here’s the Pundit’s suggestion to the buyers: Don’t wait for the deadline to pass. Withdraw the letter to the associations, which can only lead to endless negotiations with grower/shippers and watered-down food safety standards. Instead, create a temporary ad hoc consortium to spearhead the quick development of science-based food safety standards.

In the short term, these will be enforced by buyer demand, hopefully including other buyers who will buy into the plan; in the medium run the plan will be turned over to state authorities in California and federal authorities in Washington, D.C., as the basis for new mandatory regulation.”

We pointed out that this initiative may not stay in the hands of the ad hoc group leading the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative when, on November 7, 2006, we announced: National Restaurant Association Forms Produce Safety Working Group and pointed out:

“What we should have learned from the FDA loss of confidence in the industry is that food safety is not something that we negotiate over. It has to be driven by the best scientific knowledge we have.”

Mark Munger of Andrew-Williamson Fresh Produce, a grower/shipper, pitched in his thoughts on the important role buyers play in the food safety arena and, on November 8, 2006, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Insights From A Conscientious Grower, which specifically praised one foodservice customer:

I also have to commend one of our customers, who I believe demonstrates the value of collective partnerships between growers and customers. Two years ago we began working with Darden Restaurants. Darden takes food safety very seriously. They have empowered a food safety team that must approve each and every supplier. They have inspectors in the field who make weekly random inspections of growing operations, picking and packing programs. When problem issues are identified, they work closely with our food safety team to help educate our team and to ensure that collectively we fix the problem. The knowledge that an inspector can be in any field or packing shed at anytime has forced us to treat every day as an inspection day.

Additionally, Darden’s food safety team is separate from their buying team. If a farm is not up to par, they have the authority to stop all transactions until the problems are fixed. They truly put their money where their mouth is and have helped us become a markedly better company. I cannot think of a better example of the power of collective thinking between suppliers and customers. I think the industry would be well served to learn more about their programs and create similar models.

Not surprisingly, the Food Marketing Institute was not going to be content to sit this one out and, on November 10, 2006, we published FMI Steps Into The Food Safety Fray, which detailed a conference scheduled for December 5th at which FMI would host representatives from industry, associations, academia and government to advance food safety issues. Unfortunately, FMI decided to exclude the media and we pointed out:

“…if the goal is to build public confidence in the process the industry is going through, you not only open it to media, you send a velvet invitation to the big consumer media groups.

It smells of smoke-filled rooms where deals will be cut in secret. If you let in some light and air, everyone will have more confidence in the final product.”

On November 14, 2006, we published Pundit’s Mailbag: Grower/Shipper Calls Buyer Led-Food Safety Initiative Hollow Call To Action, in which a respected grower/shipper pointed out that “This is where the retailers must step out of their ivory towers and get their walk (vendor relationship) to match their talk (aligned supply chain)… If those who signed on to this letter would get committed to buying only from “qualified suppliers,” the laws of supply and demand will drive the solution and we will quickly catch up with the rest of the world in this critical area.”

On November 17, 2006, we featured Tale Of Two Buyers, in which we pointed out: “If the VPs are sincere about wanting the buyers to place food safety first, the VPs have the responsibility for changing the culture and the economic incentive systems.”

On November 21, 2006, we published Tim York Takes Leadership Role In Food Safety Crisis, which features an extensive interview with Tim York of Markon Cooperative as well as the announcement that the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative gained ten new retail signatories:

  • Mike O’Brien, Vice President Produce & Floral, Schnuck Markets, St. Louis, Missouri
  • James Spilka, Vice President Produce, Meijer, Inc., Grand Rapids, Michigan
  • Mark Vanderlinden, Vice President Produce Merchandising , Price Chopper, Schenectady, New York
  • Greg Corrigan, Director Produce & Floral, Raley’s, West Sacramento, California
  • Craig Carlson, Vice President Produce, Pathmark Stores, Carteret, New Jersey
  • Don Harris, Vice President Produce & Floral, Wild Oats Markets, Boulder, Colorado
  • Bryan Gannon, Director Produce & Floral, Big Y Supermarkets, Springfield, Massachusetts
  • Jim Corby, Vice President, Produce Merchandising. Food Lion, Salisbury, North Carolina
  • Roger Schroeder, Vice President Produce, Stater Bros., Colton, California
  • Craig Ignatz, Vice President Produce Merchandising, Giant Eagle, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Despite the impressive show of buyer support, we expressed some concern: “…it is also pretty clear that the prospect of one unified food safety standard acceptable to every one of the signatories, much less to those who have declined to sign, is somewhere between nil and nothing.”

On November 28, 2006, we published Words From Buyers Who Did Not Sign The Food Safety Initiative, and in this piece we added Mark Hilton, Vice President of Produce and Floral for Harris-Teeter, based in Matthews, North Carolina, as a signatory to the letter.

We also quoted buyers who had declined to sign the letter mostly due to their objection to the public nature of the initiative. We also pointed out how vendors were thinking:

Pundit Note: Many growers and shippers are irate over the effort as they see it as an evasion of responsibility. These buying organizations get exactly what they value enough to pay for. All too often, some of the same companies who signed the letter on Monday will, on Tuesday, buy some product without the slightest knowledge of where it came from.

On November 29, 2006, we ran Another Naysayer of Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative, which gave voice to the thoughts of some non-participating buyers that only mandatory government regulation is the way to go. Also on November 29, 2006, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Buyers Lecturing Again, in which a processor there at the beginning of the national fresh-cut industry reminded us how uninterested in food safety most retailers were at the time.

On November 30, 2006, we continued our exploration of why some buyers were declining to join the buyer-led initiative with Self-Interests Play Role In Food Safety Initiatives. Also on November 30, 2006, we received a letter from Al Zuckerman of ProMark Group, which we focused on in Pundit’s Mailbag — Pundit Logic On Food Safety Regulation. We pointed out: “In terms of the difficulties on spinach and leafy greens, the key buyers are missing from the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative. The buyers of the produce, in this case, are the processors.”

On December 1, 2006, we published Spinach And The Consequences Of Buyers’ Action, in which buyers who hadn’t signed on to the buyer-led food safety initiative pointed out that rigorous food safety systems will restrict supply and raise prices.

As we explained: “It is unknown if those who don’t buy spinach because of high prices will buy healthy alternatives. They may buy candy bars and die of complications of obesity. It is a completely open question as to whether safer spinach won’t cost lives in the end.”

Also on December 1, 2006, we responded to industry feedback claiming that foodservice did a better job than retail when it came to food safety by beginning a series of Pundit Pulses focused on foodservice. The first two, Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry: Del Taco’s Janet Erickson and Notre Dame’s Dan Crimmins, dealt with how smaller buyers deal with these issues.

On December 5, 2006, we continued our discussion with buyers who refused to sign the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative by noting that some of them weren’t thrilled with the Western Growers Association proposal either. Our Piece Is WGA’s Food Safety Proposal Up To The Job?dealt with the problems created for the industry when one region is declared “safer” than another and with the difficulty of utilizing a marketing order to legislate world class food safety practices.

On December 6, 2006, we ran Nine Days To B-Day (The Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative Deadline), which dealt with what will happen if the trade associations do not meet the deadline set by the buyers. Also on December 6, 2006, we continued our series on foodservice and food safety by running Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry: Michael Spinazzola Of Diversified Restaurant Systems.

Additionally on December 6, 2006, we ran a letter from Tim O’Conner, President & CEO of the United States Potato Board in our Pundit’s Mailbag — Buying Safe Food In A Changing Worldin which Tim explained: “Given my experience with government inspection and regulation, I place much more value on a supply chain-led initiative to deliver meaningful long term results.”

On December 7, 2006, we ran FMI Meeting On Food Safety: More Questions To Be Answered, which looked at the contribution of FMI’s effort to play a role in preventing a future leafy green crisis.

On December 8, 2006, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Trapping Stations And Food Safety Costs, in which a letter from Jack Vessey of Vessey & Company clued us in to the specific cost implications of food safety initiatives.

On December 12, 2006, we ran Taco Bell Makes Ready Pac Its Scapegoat, which explained that the attitude of shared responsibility for food safety that is essential for success can’t be sustained if a buyer dumps an innocent vendor at the first sign of trouble.

Also on December 12, 2006, we published New Meaning Of A Value Meal: Cultural Change Needed To Factor In Food Safety, which dealt with the way a cultural imperative to low prices could lead food safety to be sacrificed.

Additionally on December 12, 2006, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag: Aligned Supply Chains And Statistical Quirks, which analyzed the way the tyranny of large numbers can impact our perception of the food safety problem.

On December 13, 2006, we published Wholesalers, Independents May Get Windfall From Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative, which pointed out that a buyer-led initiative would likely leave lots of growers looking for homes for their product and that wholesalers and independents could benefit.

On January 3, 2007, we resumed our discussion of the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative by publishing Publix and C.H. Robinson Join Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative, which brought the list of signatories to twenty-two:

Ron Anderson, Safeway, Inc.
Gary Bergstrom, Publix
Craig Carlson, Pathmark Stores
Jim Corby, Food Lion
Greg Corrigan, Raley’s
David Corsi, Wegman’s Food Markets
Brian Gannon, Big Y Supermarkets
Gary Gionnette, Supervalu Inc.
Reggie Griffin, Kroger Company
Mike Hansen, Sysco Corporation
Don Harris, Wild Oats Markets
Gene Harris, Denny’s Corporation
Mark Hilton, Harris-Teeter
Craig Ignatz, Giant Eagle
Jim Lemke, C.H. Robinson Worldwide
Mike O’Brien, Schnuck Markets
Frank Padilla, Costco Wholesale
Greg Reinauer, Amerifresh, Inc.
Roger Schroeder, Stater Bros.
James Spilka, Meijer, Inc.
Mark Vanderlinden, Price Chopper
Tim York, Markon Cooperative

We were particularly intrigued by the possibility that C.H. Robinson’s participation, as a major vendor to Wal-Mart, might mean that Wal-Mart saw some usefulness in being somewhat related to the initiative.

On January 4, 2007, we ran Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative Maturing In More Ways Than One, that included the Buyer Group’s latest call for action.




Botulism And Carrot Juice
Summary XLVII

We’ve been asked to make available in one place our coverage of the recall by Wm. Bolthouse Farms of certain 100% carrot juice products and the broader implications of this issue for food safety. This piece is updated regularly and will be re-run to include new coverage of this outbreak and issue.

We initiated our coverage on October 2, 2006, by publishing the FDA notice to consumers warning them not to drink the product, and we inquired as to the margin of safety on the product. You can find the piece, entitled Oh No! Another Outbreak, right here.

On October 4, 2006, we published Bolthouse And Juice Refrigeration, which analyzed the proper standard of refrigeration for vulnerable products and the ability of both the trade and consumers to maintain that cold chain. Read it here.

October 5, 2006, we ran Botulism III, which detailed the 12 steps in the distribution chain that the industry needs functioning properly in order to maintain the cold chain. The piece challenged retailers to evaluate the integrity of their own cold chain. You can find the piece here.

In The Botulism And E. coli Connection, which we ran on October 6, 2006, we noted similarities between the botulism outbreak on certain Bolthouse carrot juice and the spinach/E. coli outbreak. The piece is right here.

On October 10, 2006, we noted, in Bolthouse Botulism Case Hits Canada, that two Canadians were now victims of this botulism case and noted that it was an unusual cluster to occur at one time if the problem was solely temperature abuse by customers. You can catch it here.

October 11, 2006, we ran Carrot Juice Still On Canadian Shelves, we noted that Canadians were getting upset over the inability of Canada’s public health authorities to execute a simple product recall and that the frequency of recalls was raising questions over the safety of California produce. Read it right here.

On October 13, 2006, we ran Lobbying For Better Refrigeration urging industry lobbyists to work on legislation to make sure consumers have the tools they need to keep product safe at home. The article is here.

October 18, 2006, we ran a Pundit’s Mailbag — Thermometers In Refrigerators, disagreeing with our urging of legislation regarding thermostats and refrigeration. You can read the piece here.




Pundit Rewind LVII

The Pundit originally ran the Pundit Rewind on September 21, 2006. We continuously update it in order to keep everyone organized with respect to reference material on this subject; we have updated it with new items and run it again today.

Spinach Crisis Summary

With so much having been written in so short a time, thought it would be helpful to publish a sort of round-up of available material to help people understand the whole situation regarding spinach and this E. coli breakout:

The Perishable Pundit itself has dealt extensively with the subject in several major pieces. On September 15, 2006, we published Spinach Recall Reveals Serious Industry Problems, which addressed the implications of this crisis for the fresh-cut industry. You can read the piece here.

On September 18, 2006, we published Organic Dodges a Bullet, which deals with the implications of the outbreak for the future of organic farming. You can find this piece here. Also on September 18, 2006, we ran a piece called Ramifications and Reflections on the Spinach Recall, which provided our first 10-point analysis of the situation. You can read it here.

September 19, 2006, we asked Is FDA’s Concern Now an Obsession? — a piece in which we assessed whether a national recommendation to not eat spinach made any sense. You can review this here.

On September 20, 2006, we noted 10 Peculiarities about the E. coli Outbreak and reviewed why certain aspects of the situation are unlike past food-safety challenges and other unanswered questions regarding the outbreak. Read this one right here. Also on September 20, 2006, we did our third 10-point list, calling this one “Spinach Recall Begs for Solutions”, where we reviewed how the trade can deal with this issue for the future, including looking at the meat industry, the prospect of universal testing and the use of RFID and GTIN. You can read all this here.

On September 21, 2006, we asked Is FDA Causing Long-term Damage? Here we posed the question of whether punishing the innocent and the guilty alike doesn’t reduce incentives to invest in food safety. You can read this piece right here.

The September 25, 2006 edition of the Pundit includes our fourth 10-point list entitled Though Not ‘All-Clear’, Consumers Can Eat Spinach Again, which reviewed many issues facing the industry as spinach begins to reenter the market, including the FDA’s announcement, PMA consumer research, the behavior of industry association, battles over fresh-cuts and organics, the reintroduction of Salinas Valley production, the FDA’s capabilities, and more. You can read this piece here. Also on September 25, 2006, we reviewed The Role of Retailers And The Future Of Food Safety, which pointed out that buyers have an important role in insuring food safety. Catch this piece here.

Additionally, on September 25, 2006, we ran the Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industryin which a panel of retail pundits gave us insight into the way the spinach issue played in store and with consumers. You can read it here.

The Pundit on September 26, 2006, included an articled entitled The California Department of Health Services Owes People An Explanation in which the question was raised whether certain parties received preferential treatment in the current spinach/E. coli outbreak. Read it right here. Also on September 26, 2006, we did a piece questioning the efficacy of our trace-back systems. The piece was titled More Recalls Trickle In, and you can read it here.

On September 27, 2006, the Pundit analyzed the bad publicity that the Salinas Valley has received and asked Is Salinas Getting A Bum Rap On Food Safety? The piece can be read right here.

September 28, 2006, the Pundit included a piece entitled Call For Stronger FDA that analyzed the demand of some in the food industry for beefing up the FDA and its budget within the context of the spinach/E. coli situation. You can read it here.

On September 29, 2006 we did a piece called Lies, Damned Lies And Statistics that explored the contradiction of modern life that has led things to seem less safe, even as they are actually safer. Read the piece here.

October 2, 2006 we ran The FDA Needs to Reexamine Its Methodology, inquiring why it was necessary to shut down a whole industry when, as far as we know, it was only Dole brand bagged spinach that was implicated? Read it here. Also on October 2, 2006, in a piece called Needless Recalls, we examined how even if many of the recalls were unnecessary, the recalls revealed big flaws in the trade’s traceback systems. You can find the piece here. Another piece October 2, 2006, entitled Deconstructing FDA, analyzed the FDA’s statement regarding the end of the spinach crisis. The piece is right here.

The Pundit also ran a piece entitled Action Plan to Regain Consumer Confidence that both discussed the industry plan and proposed an alternative plan. Read about it here. Also on October 2, 2006, we did a piece called Collateral Damage vs. Assumption of the Risk, which analyzed some of the liability issues surrounding the outbreak. You can find the piece here. Additionally, on October 2, 2006, we published the second in our series of Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry. This one including insight from Bob Edgell of Balls Foods and Ron McCormick of Wal-Mart, regarding reaction at retail as spinach outside California became available. Read it here.

On October 4, 2006, the Pundit ran a piece entitled In Defense of Salinas, in which, based on a discussion with a Salinas farmer, we outlined five points you need to understand about the relationship between the Salinas Valley and this outbreak. You can find it here. Also on October 4, 2006, we published Notes On Natural Selection: It Could Happen To You, which discussed the new food safety plan revealed by Natural Selection Foods and discussed the necessity of product testing. Read it here.

October 5, 2006, we analyzed the implications of the FBI raid in Salinas with Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water… You can read the piece here.

We also explained on October 5, 2006, the involvement of Growers Express in the FBI raid in a piece entitled Bailando Juntos (Dancing Together), which you can find right here. What’s more, we discussed on October 5, 2006, why Canada is still banning U.S. spinach and what that implies about relations between the FDA and CFIA. The piece is called U.S. Spinach Still Banned in Canada, and you can read it here.

On October 6, 2006, the Pundit pointed out the importance of considering the human costs of our actions in A Look At The Faces, which you can read here. Also on October 6, 2006, we analyzed how increased use of a federal network was bound to mean the recording of more frequent food safety outlets in a piece entitled PulseNet Ups Ante In Food Safety Battle, which can be read right here.

Although not strictly speaking spinach-related, when one company voluntarily recalled certain green leaf lettuce, it was a decision affected by the overall environment caused by the spinach/E. coli situation. In Nunes Recall Reveals Testing Dilemma, published on October 10, 2006, we analyzed how stricter standards may lead to more frequent recalls. Catch the piece here.

October 11, 2006 we pointed out that the Center for Disease Control was beginning to see fresh-cut in a whole new light. You can read CDC’s Aha! Moment right here. Also on October 11, 2006, we offered Heads Up — Political Posturing On Spinach Begins, pointing out that the a State Senator in California was going to start some hearings. Read the piece here.

On October 12, 2006, in PulseNet Asleep At The Wheel, we detailed that the nation’s food safety bulletin board likes to take off on weekends. Read this astounding piece here.

Dangerous E. coli Found On One Ranch ran on October 13, 2006, and points out that this finding doesn’t tell us much. Read it here. Also on October 13, 2006, we ran Fast Testing For Pathogens Necessary, which pointed out that product testing is bound to happen and discussed options and obstacles. You can read it here.

October 18, 2006 the Pundit ran a piece in which PulseNet Explains Why It Doesn’t Work Weekends.You can find the piece here.

On October 19, 2006, the piece Pundit’s Mailbag — Greenhouses and Vertical Farmingexplores the potential of greenhouse and hydroponic growing in the light of the spinach/E. coli crisis. The article also explores the potential for vertical farms in urban neighborhoods. Read it here.

On October 24, 2006, we published Town Hall Spinach Meeting: Unanswered Questions, in which we analyzed what we learned and what was still a mystery after attending a Town Hall Meeting on the spinach crisis at the PMA Convention in San Diego. You can find this piece here.

October 27, 2006, we ran a piece entitled PMA Commits $1 Million To Food Safety Fixes and you can read it here. Also on October 27, 2006, we thought part of the fallout from the crisis would be a reexamination of the industry’s government relations efforts and so wrote PMA/United Merger Fresh On Our Minds. You can read it right here. Additionally on October 27, 2006, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — Greenhouse Solutions dealing with whether Controlled Environment Agriculture might be the solution to the trade’s food safety issues. Read it right here.

On October 30, 2006, we responded to a very important proposal from several leading members of the buying community with Buyer-Led Food Safety Effort Leaves Open Question of Buyer Commitment.You can read the piece here. After the government announced that it was looking at wild pigs as the culprit in the E. coli contamination, we ran, on October 30, 2006, a piece entitled Now We Know Why Spinach Salad Is Served With Bacon Dressing. Read it right here.

On October 31, 2006, we published Western Growers Association Calls For Mandatory Food Safety Standards, in which we discussed the epochal change taking place as the industry looked to move to mandatory, as opposed to voluntary, food safety standards. You can read it right here.

November 2, 2006, we published Opportunity For Buyer’s Food Safety Initiative,which raised the idea that not involving growers in setting food safety standards was a good idea. Read it here.

On November 7, 2006, we ran a piece entitled NRA Forms Produce Safety Working Group that discussed a new National Restaurant Association initiative to impose standards on suppliers to foodservice. You can find the piece here. Also on November 7, 2006, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — United’s President/CEO Responds (Part 2), which dealt with the question of how much difference a good government relations program can be expected to accomplish at a time of crisis. Read it here.

November 8, 2006, we ran a valuable Pundit’s Mailbag — Insights From A Conscientious Growerthat focused on the value buyers can bring to food safety programs. You can read it here.

On November 10, 2006, we published FMI Steps Into Food Safety Fray, which details the role a food safety conference FMI is organizing might play in helping the industry develop new food safety protocols. You can find the piece here.

November 14, 2006, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — Grower/Shipper Calls Buyer-Led Food Safety Initiative Hollow Call To Action, in which a respected grower pointed out that growers needed retailers to walk the walk not talk the talk. Read it here.

On November 15, 2006 we published PulseNet, And The Pundit, In The News, which linked to a TV station that picked up on our reporting on ways to improve PulseNet. Read it here. Also on November 15, 2006, we published Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry: Westborn Markets, Schnucks, Wal-Mart, in which these retailers updated us on how the market for spinach and bagged salads is recovering. You can find the piece here.

November 16, 2006, we had a piece entitled Pundit’s Mailbag — Kill Steps And Irradiation that dealt with the industry concern that no matter how we strengthen our agricultural practices, only a “kill step” can really solve the problem. Read it here.

On November 17, 2006, we published GAPs/GMPs And HACCP Plans, in which United Fresh President/CEO Tom Stenzel gives his take on what happened during the spinach crisis. Read it here. Also on November 17, 2006, we ran Tale Of Two Buyers, which pointed out that culture and compensation may matter more than intent when it comes to food safety. Find it right here.

November 21, 2006, we ran Tim York Takes Leadership Role In Food Safety Crisis, which updated us on the progress of the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative. Read it here.

On November 22, 2006 we presented The Perishable Pundit’s Unsung Heroes Awardto Hank Giclas of Western Growers Association, David Gombas and Jim Gorny, both of United Fresh Produce Association. Read all about it right here. Also on November 22, 2006 we reported the explosive news that the whole consumer advisory not to eat spinach might have been avoided had certain processors cooperated with the FDA. The piece is called Spinach Farmers Won’t Be Thanking Certain Processors This Holidayand you can read it here. Additionally, on November 22, 2006 we explained that restricting product usage could reduce the impact of future outbreaks. The article is called If You Are Eating Out For Thanksgiving… and you can find it here.

November 28, 2006 we published Words From Buyers Who Did Not Sign The Food Safety Initiative that explained one objection to the way the initiative was being handled. Read the piece here. Also on November 28, 2006, we wrote Don’t Forget The Regional Spinach Processors, which showed how Aunt Mid’s Produce Company in Detroit, Michigan, was communicating with its customers. Catch it here.

On November 29, 2006, we ran a piece called Another Naysayer of Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative that focused on the thoughts of some buyers that only mandatory government regulation would help the industry. Read it right here.

On November 30, 2006, we published Self-Interests Play Role In Food Safety Initiatives, a piece that continued our series on why some buyers don’t wish to sign on to the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative. You can find the article here.

On December 1, 2006, we continued our exploration of why some buyers elected not to sign on to the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative with Spinach And The Consequence Of Buyers’ Actions, a piece that looked at how food safety might impact prices and public health. Read it here.

Also on December 1, 2006, we published Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry: Del Taco’s Janet Erickson and Notre Dame’s Dan Crimmins, which explored how smaller foodservice operators were looking at food safety. Catch it right here.

Additionally on December 1, 2006, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — Sprout Lessons Echo Food Safety Dilemma, which pointed out what the broader produce industry can learn from the food safety woes of the sprout industry. You can find the piece here.

On December 5, 2006, we asked Is WGA’s Food Safety Proposal Up To The Job?This piece discussed both the difficulties of setting different food safety standards in different regions and the difficulty of establishing food safety standards through a marketing order. Read it here.

On December 6, 2006, we ran Nine Days To B-Day (The Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative Deadline),which dealt with what will happen if the trade associations do not meet the deadline set by the buyers. Read the piece here. Also on December 6, 2006, we continued our series on foodservice and food safety by running Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry: Michael Spinazzola Of Diversified Restaurant Systems, and you can find this article here.

Additionally on December 6, 2006 we ran a letter from Tim O’Conner, President & CEO of the United States Potato Board in our Pundit’s Mailbag — Buying Safe Food In A Changing World, catch this piece right here.

On December 7, 2006, we ran FMI Meeting On Food Safety: More Questions To Be Answered, which looked, from a retailer’s point of view, at the contribution of FMI’s effort to play a role in preventing a future leafy green crisis. Read it right here.

December 8, 2006 we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — Trapping Stations And Food Safety Costsin which a letter from Jack Vessey of Vessey & Company detailed some costs being incurred as a result of buyers’ demands for various food safety efforts. Read it right here.

On December 12, 2006, we published New Meaning Of A Value Meal: Cultural Change Needed To Factor In Food Safety, which dealt with the way a cultural imperative to low prices could lead food safety to be sacrificed. Please read it here.

Also on December 12, 2006, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag: Aligned Supply Chains And Statistical Quirks, which analyzed the way the tyranny of large numbers can impact our perception of the food safety problem. You can catch this right here.

On December 13, 2006, we ran Wholesalers, Independents May Get Windfall From Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative, which pointed out that a buyer-led initiative would likely leave lots of growers looking for homes for their product and that wholesalers and independents could benefit. Read it here.

Also on December 13, 2006, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Eliminating E. coli 0157:H7, which argued that we should look for legislation to prevent cattle from polluting with E. coli 0157:H7 and look to eliminate E. coli 0157:H7 from the food chain. Catch the piece here.

On December 14, 2006, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Transitional Ground, which dealt with the food safety implications of the presumption that the spinach implicated in the spinach/E. coli outbreak was grown with organic methods on ground being transitioned to organic. Read the piece right here.

On December 15, 2006, we published the Pundit Special Science Report: Part 1 — Food Safety Vulnerabilities in Yuma And Salinas; Part 2 — The Science Of Waterborne Bacteria; Part 3 — Product Testing At Natural Selection Foods & McEntire Produce. The whole report can be found here.

On December 19, 2006 we published Irradiation Will Prevent Future Outbreaks which dealt with the need for a “kill step” in produce. You can read it here. Also on December 19, 2006 we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — Organics And Manure which dealt with the issue of the use of manure in modern agriculture. You can find the piece right here.

On December 20, 2006, we published The Cultural Contradictions of Food Safety, which analyzed how growers are placed in a financial and ethical dilemma by issues of food safety. Read the piece here. Also on December 20, 2006 we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — WGA’s Ambiguitiesin which Bob Martin of Rio Farms discussed the WGA’s proposal along with the challenges buyer’s demands place on growers. You can find the piece here.

On December 21, 2006, we ran Fighting E. Eoli At The Source, which detailed industry efforts to play offense, not defense, on the food safety front. Read it here. Also on December 21, 2006, we published Pundit’s Pulse of the Industry: Foodbuy’s Maurice Totty, which analyzed how a large organization, the Compass Group, worked to secure food safety. The piece is here.

Additionally on December 21, 2006, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — Transitional Answers, which focused on the implications of the spinach/E. coli crisis. You can find the article here.

On December 22, 2006, we published Many States Are Weak At Reporting Foodborne Illness, in which we detailed how many foodborne illness outbreaks are not being identified as such due to the condition of many state labs. As they are improved, more foodborne illness will be identified even as the food supply gets safer. You can read the piece right here.

On January 3, 2007, we ran Publix And C.H. Robinson Join Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative, which pointed out the growing buying power behind the initiative. You can read it here.

On January 4, 2007, we published Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative Maturing In More Ways Than One, which detailed the latest letter written by the group. Read it here.

Also on January 4, 2007, we ran Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry — Ruby Tuesday’s Rick Johnson, in which we heard frank talk about where food safety responsibility lies. Catch it here.

On January 5, 2007, we ran FDA’s Money Problem, which pointed out that funds for research are essential if we are ever to really resolve the trade’s food safety issues. Read the piece here. Also on January 5, 2007, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — More on Manure, in which we explained why manure needs to be banned from spinach cultivation. Catch it right here.

On January 9, 2007, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Farmers Are Not The Cause Of Food Safety Problems, which contained an important letter pointing out that farmers are expected to deliver “dirty” product to processors. You can read it here.

On January 10, 2007, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — Oversights In Food Safety, which featured an important letter from Tom Russell of Dynasty Farms/Pacific International Marketing calling for a ban on the use of cow manure in agriculture and a “Right to Irradiate” bill. You can read the piece here.

On January 11, 2007, we ran E-coli 0157:H7 Vaccine Approved For Use In Canada, which related to efforts to stop E. coli 0157:H7 before it can hit the produce fields. Read it here.

Also on January 11, 2007, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Arguing For Irradiation, which included a letter from Mark Beeler of Watsonville Produce pointing out that we need a “kill step” if the goal is to stop outbreaks. You can find it here.

IMPLICATIONS OF THE CRISIS
In addition, the Pundit has done several smaller pieces that touched on various aspects of this crisis. On September 18, 2006, we raised the issue of whether food safety outbreaks such as this raise long-term issues about the viability of cartoon character tie-ins in Who Has Marketing Fortitude? You can read about it here. Also on September 18, 2006, we wrote Fit To Be Tied, which dealt with the way some companies have little sense of decency when it comes to marketing their products in the midst of a crisis. You can read this one right here.

Additionally on September 18, 2006, our Pundit’s Mailbag focused on letters received by United President/CEO Tom Stenzel and incoming Chairman Emanuel Lazopoulos of Del Monte Fresh, which dealt with the confluence of United’s Board Meeting and the spinach crisis as well as issues of industry leadership. You can find this one here.

On September 19, 2006, we noted that there might be a Greenhouse Opportunity in all this. Read this here. Also on September 19, 2006, we noted that, though fruits and vegetables are healthy, fresh produce is not necessarily the best choice for those with a compromised immune system. The piece is called Marketing Nightmare and you can find it right here.

On September 21, 2006, we did a piece called Wal-Mart Deli/Bakery Has Crisis Of Its Own that draws a link between the difficulty of preventing a Salmonella outbreak at one store with the difficulty of preventing an E. coli outbreak on an industry-wide basis. You can read this piece here.

On September 25, 2006, the Pundit noted Another Oddity In Spinach Crisis and raised the question whether some or all of the product being marketed as conventional might not be organic. Read it right here. Also on September 25, 2006, we ran a Pundit’s Mailbag which dealt both with the utility of loyalty card programs and with the nature of large, multi-line fresh-cut packing facilities. You can read this one right here. Also we did a short piece on what change was actually necessary if consumers were to be reassured of the safety of spinach. Read it here.

On September 26, 2006, we discussed the issue of recalls and how insurance plays into that. You can read this here. Also had an unrelated piece on Wegmans that included a video clip on how consumer media is dealing with the reintroduction of spinach. You can catch it here.

Additionally on September 26, 2006, we ran a Pundit’s Mailbag exploring the causes of the outbreak. You can read this piece here.

September 27, 2006, we focused on a piece in the Washington Post that helps us in Putting Things In Perspective. How does the Spinach/E. coli outbreak relate to the total numbers that get sick and die each year from foodborne illness? You can read it right here.

On September 28, 2006, we published a terrific Pundit’s Mailbag exploring the frustration the buy side felt in dealing with the spinach/E. coli situation. Read it here.

October 2, 2006, we had some Questions For Western Growers that asked how far the WGA was willing to go to make sure foreign growers meet the same standards as Salinas area farmers. Read about it here. We also asked How Committed Is The Produce Industry To Broad/National Food Safety Program. You can read the piece here.

In addition, on October 2, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag: Another Despicable Marketing Attempt that pointed out how a seed company was taking advantage of the situation and, possibly, leading to harm, by pushing its products. Read about it here.

On October 4, 2006, we ran a piece entitled Primary And Secondary Suppliers, which details how this food safety crisis has to impact retail vendor selection. Catch it right here. Also on October 4, 2006, we discussed how to help innocent spinach farmers who were victimized by this crisis in Everyone Needs to Do A Little Bit. The Pundit pledged to do its own bit. Read it right here.

October 5, 2006, we ran a piece focused on another outbreak of foodborne illness — in this case, botulism in carrot juice. The focus, however, was on the necessity to change attitudes as the produce industry becomes less a packing industry and more a processing industry. It is called Botulism III, and you can read it here.

On October 6, 2006 we pointed out The Botulism And E. coli Connection where we explained that our focus on pathogens at the product source, though important, is insufficient. Read it here. Also on October 6, 2006 we ran Pundit’s Mailbag: What Are The feds Up To? This answered a reader’s letter inquiring as to whether the FBI being in Salinas implied industry members weren’t cooperating. You can find this item here.

Food Safety, Good Delivery And Temperature Monitoring was published on October 10, 2006, and pointed out that old temperature recording devices have to be superseded by new temperature monitoring technology on all trucking of vulnerable products. Catch the piece here.

On October 11, 2006, we ran a piece that grew out of the decision of Publix to stop giving some perishables away because of food safety concerns it is called Culture of Risk-Aversion Hurts the Poor and you can read it here.

Nunes Tests Negative on October 13, 2006, raises the question of the appropriateness of recalls for generic E. coli in irrigation water. Read it here. Also on October 13, 2006, we ran Lobbying For Better Refrigeration, which pointed out that consumers are not given the tools needed to be vigilant at home. Find it here.

In addition on October 13, 2006, we published PulseNet Redux pointing out, once again, that this outbreak could have been caught earlier had the government not taken off for the weekend. Read it here. Also on October 13, 2006 we ran a Pundit’s Mailbag — Population Inured by Recalls? This piece raised the possibility that frequent recalls, with no subsequent illness, would rebound to the benefit of the trade. Please read it here.

On October 17, 2006, we ran Will Hydroponics Be A Solution To Spinach Woes? and analyzed the potential of hydroponics to head off future outbreaks. Read it here.

October 18, 2006, we had a Pundit’s Mailbag — Thermometers In Refrigerators, in which the Pundit was challenged for urging excessive governmental interference. You can find it right here.

October 20, 2006, we had two pieces related to the Nunes recall on Green Leaf lettuce. First, in a piece entitled Closure For Nunes, we detailed that the product had been declared clean by the FDA. You can read it here. Second, we had a piece entitled Partial Closure In Mexico, which explained that Mexico had decided to allow the import of U.S. lettuce but not spinach. You can find the piece right here.

On November 1, 2006, we ran a piece entitled Canada Opens Door To More, But Not All, US Spinach. You can read it right here. Also on November 1, 2006, we had an interesting Pundit’s Mailbag — The Acceptance Of Risk, which included a fascinating comparison on how the FAA views safety in airlines as opposed to the FDA looking at food. Read it here.

November 3, 2006, we published Food Safety And Why The Problem Will Only Get Worse…Or Won’t, which dealt with the way enhanced detection technology is likely to increase reports of foodborne illness — even as the food supply gets safer. Read it here. Also on November 3, 2006 we ran a brief note entitled Broader Concern For Food Safety, which linked to an FDA-produced slide show on the spinach outbreak as part of a broader food safety perspective. You can catch it right here.

Additionally on November 3, 2006, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — CPMA’s President Sets The Record Straight, in which CPMA’s President Dan Dempster addressed the importance of communication between the public health authorities in the U.S. and in Canada. Find the piece right here.

On November 7, 2006, we ran FDA Focuses On Retail And Foodservice Food Safety which gave news of an FDA satellite broadcast for retailers and foodservice operators and addressed the general issue of buyers and food safety. Read it here. Also on November 7, 2006, we ran an Erratum correcting some calculations in our previous piece Food Safety And Why The Problem Will Only Get Worse…Or Won’t. You can find it right here.

November 9, 2006, we published Pundit’s Pulse of the Industry: Bigg’s Marvin Lyons, the first of a series of retail interviews looking at how sales at retail are going post-spinach crisis. Read it here. Also on November 9, 2006, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — Sticking Up for the Pundit, in which an industry leader wrote in to support the work of the Pundit. You can find the piece here.

On November 10, 2006, we highlighted a quick directory of Farm-to-Fork Food Safety Resources. Catch it here.

November 21, 2006 we ran Capitol Report: United Helps Coordinate ‘Spinach Fest’ which focused on an event in D.C. reintroducing spinach to consumers. Read it here. Also on November 21, 2006 we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Woeful Costco Experience, which detailed the difficulty of getting accurate information down to store level personnel. You can find the piece here.

On November 22, 2006 we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Thankfulness in which Harris Cutler of Race-West Company offered a common sense perspective on food safety. Read it here.

November 29, 2006 featured Pundit’s Mailbag — Buyers Lecturing Again, which reminded us that retailers weren’t always focused on consumers or safety in the early years of the national fresh-cut industry. You can find the piece right here.

On November 30, 2006, we published What’s In A Name, recognizing the birth date of Theodor Escherich, for whom the genus Escherichia of which Escherichia coli is the most common member. Read it here.

Also on November 30, 2006, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Pundit Logic On Food Safety Regulations, which dealt with a letter from Al Zuckerman of ProMark Group trying to find a reasonable proposal on food safety. Catch it here.

On December 1, 2006, we ran Speaking Of Produce Washes, which revealed a study that found that washes and water are all about the same. Read it here.

On January 3, 2007, we published Crisis Management, which suggests that simply having a spokesperson is not sufficient, you need people who actually know to speak for you in a crisis. Read it here.

Also on January 3, 2007, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — Taco Bell & FDA’s Rush To Judgment, in which Cary Rubin of Rubin Brothers Produce Corp. objected to businesses and government when they speak out based on supposition. Catch it right here.

On January 5, 2007, we published From a Victim’s Perspective, and pointed out how continued consumer concern over produce may impact sales. Read the article here. Also on January 5, 2007, we ran Food Safety Culture, which provided a link to a food safety video that included a terrific presentation by Frank Yiannas, Director of Safety & Health for Walt Disney World. The presentation focused on building a food safety culture. You can find the piece right here.

RESOURCES
In addition to our own work, there are many excellent sources of information out there that do not require payment, membership or registration. Three of the Pundit’s favorites:

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has offered daily information on the crisis right here.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention deal with the outbreak here.

The Produce Marketing Association has maintained an excellent industry resource on the subject right here.

Please feel free to write or call if you are looking for specific information not included here. Note that many of the articles and websites have links to other resources.

Several additional pieces appear in the Perishable Pundit today, and they will be incorporated into future iterations of this Spinach Crisis Summary.

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