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California Marketing Board
Accepts GAP Metrics

It is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end, but it is, at last, the end of the beginning.

On Friday, March 23, 2007, the California Leafy Green Advisory Board accepted the metrics to be used in the marketing agreement’s verification program.

You can see the Marketing Agreement here and the metrics here.

It has been a long road to get to this point, and the many people from United, WGA, private industry, academia, etc., that contributed to this document should receive much appreciation. It has been tireless and difficult work.

Which is why, for the good of the industry, it is very important that this whole matter be handled well from this day forward. A few points to consider:

  1. It is important that the board not give off any notion that it does not accept responsibility for the substance of the GAP document. The consumer press will run with this, as will political enemies of the industry, who will see it as an attempt to evade responsibility.

    Some very well intended board members want to say that they perceive the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement’s role is to verify and certify that the signatories of the agreement follow GAP guidelines developed by industry and revised by industry. That it is the industry and not the board that adopts the GAPs.

    But this position won’t hold. The CMA clearly states:
    Leafy Green Best Practices” or “Best Practices” means the commodity specific leafy green best practices document and the requirements contained therein, prepared by industry scientists, and reviewed and approved by state and federal agencies, scientifically peer reviewed by a nationally renowned science panel and adopted and/or amended by the Board.

    So the agreement clearly says that the GAPs are to be adopted by the board, and it clearly gives the Board the power to amend the GAPs.

    The Board must claim full ownership of these GAPs, as if the Board wrote them itself. Anything short of that will lead the consumer press to perceive the industry is looking for wiggle room to avoid any GAP shortcomings.
  2. We need to get communications efforts up to speed and fast. The information that the GAP documents have been accepted is not secret. It is posted on the CDFA web site. The industry has to be out front on these things with press releases, every board member with talking points, etc.

    We got lucky this time, but the consumer media abhors a vacuum, and if we don’t fill the airwaves with our position, we are likely to wake up one day and find the airwaves filled with the views of those who do not wish the industry well.
  3. We need to start working on new GAPs for next season. We were fortunate this year and weren’t pilloried for WGA’s secret panel. We shouldn’t count on such good fortune next year. The Board should make clear that it wants to get next year’s revision approved in plenty of time to plan the Salinas season. It is imperative that the Board make clear that we are on a “continuous improvement” program

    Fresh Express is funding its research, PMA has announced a new research initiative to be run through U.C. Davis — these scientists need to all be on board so that the latest research can be fed right into GAP revisions. An open hand must be extended to NRA and FMI so they know that their input is valued.

    We don’t have to pretend that we have all the answers or that we have solved all food safety problems forever. We have to be proud of the process we have gone through and defend that work while acknowledging that the work is never done.

To all the Board members, the industry owes a vote of thanks for their service. With the acceptance of these metrics, the real work is about to begin.

Aid For Spinach Losses

We received a note from a well-respected reader about a news item:

My issue is concerning a recent article, Spinach growers get aid provision as food safety-standards bills stalls, which I read in USA Today on Thursday on my way to Charlotte to attend PMA’s Produce Solutions Conference.

Buried toward the back of the front section was an article about how Congress has passed $25 million to help the spinach farmers recover from their recent episode.

I find this really interesting.

So now, every time there is a commodity crisis we should expect some sort of federal relief? And how about the retailers and food service establishments that lost revenue and profits due to consumer reaction?

The whole bag salad category got hammered, so should there be some relief for Fresh Express, Ready Pac, Dole, and others? I’m not trying to rain on the spinach parade, as I guess I’m always happy that growers can get help.

In my mind, however, this raises a whole philosophical issue and to the role the government plays in these things.

First, just to clarify, Congress has not actually passed such a law, nor has the President signed it. It was — as the editorial, Pork has no place in ‘emergency’ war bill, pointed out the next day in USA Today — a provision put in the House bill to buy support for the Democratic version of the emergency war bill.

The issue does raise philosophical questions about the role of government. But, of course, so do many other issues.

The problem for our society, of course, is that every special interest believes that the philosophical issue should be set aside for a later day while the current situation is resolved as these things are often resolved in our society — with federal funds.

The theory behind the bill is that it is important we not punish the innocent along with the guilty — or we reduce the incentive to invest in proper food safety procedures.

And there is plenty of precedent. After 9/11, when the government grounded all airlines, the airlines got compensated. So if the government bans all spinach consumption, well, why not compensate the spinach growers?

Sure it is imperfect justice. After all, the aid went to airlines, though hotels also got burned, but some would argue that imperfect justice is better than no justice at all.

The Pundit wound up participating in this issue. When the Bill was an open-ended attempt to compensate the spinach farmers, the Congressional Budget Office asked the Pundit to help “score” the bill, or determine what the actual cost would be to the U.S. Treasury. The issue became moot when the decision was made to cap the bill at $25 million.

There is a very strong argument that the government should not bail people out in emergencies. Some people don’t buy hurricane insurance and they move into hurricane-prone regions, in part, because they get bailed out of disasters. Some farmers don’t buy crop insurance, in part, because they get all kinds of aid when the crops fail.

Some people build houses on beachfront land because the government comes and renourishes the beach when it gets thin.

Yet, all this being said, these things are part and parcel of our society. You would have to be a tougher guy than the Pundit to say we should stop it all and start right here, right now, with the spinach growers.

As it happens, the prospect for passage of the law isn’t particularly good.

In Memory Of Craig Carson

Just over a month ago, the Pundit was sharing with Craig Carson what we knew about cancer and seeing if there was a way the knowledge we acquired in fighting to help the Pundit’s father could help Craig.

So we were shocked when we received a note from Tony Freytag:

Cashmere, Washington; March 22, 2007 — Craig Carson, 51, a founder, owner and General Manager of Crunch Pak Sliced Apples, passed away today after a short illness. The Crunch Pak staff and the entire community are saddened to learn of his passing. He was instrumental in the innovation and development of the sliced apple business as well as a leader in many other agricultural areas.

Just six years ago Crunch Pak was started with the goal to make sliced apples a permanent staple of the produce aisle. The company now employs approximately 200 people in their Cashmere facility with a vision of continued growth. Today, thousands of retail stores across the country distribute Crunch Pak’s apples under its own brand as well as Earthbound Farm Organic and Disney Garden. The apple industry, the community and his co-workers will miss him.

Across the country, Jim Allen, president of the New York Apple Association, sent his thoughts:

I want to remember a friend. Craig Carson of Crunch Pak, Cashmire, WA, passed away on March 22 at age of 51. Craig was a founder and co-owner of Crunch Pak, perhaps the leading supplier of fresh sliced apples to retailers across the country.

I had the pleasure of working with Craig on the United Fresh Produce Association Membership committee, and while we both represented apple industries on opposite sides of the country, we both appreciated and respected the issues facing our industries. He was true friend and he will be missed. I express my deepest condolences to Craig’s family, co-workers and friends.

Fred Williamson, Visionary And Leader

Mark Munger sent a note letting us know that Fred L. Williamson of Andrew Williamson Fresh Produce passed away at the age of 70. As Mark’s letter noted: “…he was definitely a visionary and a leader in the California and Mexico tomato industries. He has a great legacy in his son Freddie, but he will be greatly missed!” You can read the company’s statement here.

Survived by his wife of 47 years, Judy, seven children and fourteen grandchildren, business and family relationships came to overlap, and one of Fred’s sons-in-law is JM Procacci of Procacci Brothers Sales Corp.

Pundit’s Mailbag —
Dole’s Schwartz Comments On Silent Buyers

Our piece Tim York Points Out Buyer Commitment To Food Safety brought this trenchant commentary:

Tim York and Dave Corsi have gone above and beyond in helping drive the leafy greens food safety initiatives. The reality is that only Markon (Tim York) and Wegmans (Dave Corsi) have specifically spelled out that their leafy greens suppliers must be a signatory to the CA Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement.

Unfortunately, the other 20 companies that were signatories to a January 19, 2007, letter to the CA Dept of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) requesting that the agreement be implemented, have gone silent and left Tim and Dave out in front to explain why the others only “strongly encouraged” and didn’t make it a matter of doing business or not going forward.

Dole did not sign on because of last year’s spinach incident. We did it because the floor needs to be raised for the entire industry, and we couldn’t expect the smaller players to do what the larger players would not. The one thing we did not count on was the majority of the same buying leadership that asked for this step to go silent now that it is here.

By signing the agreement, a supplier is agreeing to let government inspectors onto their property for voluntary, rigorous inspections. One needs to look no further than at the beef industry to see the credibility that government inspectors carry, even in the event of recall.

Any supplier can have a food safety manual on the shelf, and I’m sure everyone does. It’s the verification of those practices that the inspectors are looking for, and what makes this marketing agreement different than all others. Nothing in the marketing agreement stops any supplier from implementing a higher standard in any area they see fit. The agreement is just a floor that a signatory is agreeing to never go below.

It is a head scratcher to try and understand why buyers would not make this mandatory for all of their leafy greens suppliers. It is not a cure for an industry without a “kill step”. But it is another firewall to make sure people are doing what they say they are, no matter how large or small their operations are. You should challenge the buying side of your readership to come forward and help us understand why a mandatory signature to the agreement is not in the best interests of the entire industry. There is always the possibility that those of us that signed on may have missed something.

— Eric Schwartz
Dole Fresh Vegetables
Monterey, California

The words resonate: The one thing we did not count on was the majority of the same buying leadership that asked for this step to go silent now that it is here.

Because the truth is painful for those of us, including Tim York, Dave Corsi and Eric Schwartz and, yes, including the Pundit as well. It is painful for all who have struggled to raise the bar for this industry to rebuild consumer confidence, to rebuild regulatory confidence and to bring the industry to a higher standard. It is painful to acknowledge the reality.

The reality is that when the speeches are done, and without questioning anyone’s hearts or morals, the reality is that the overwhelming majority of buyers are unwilling to risk having to pay more for produce in order to achieve food safety. Period. That is it.

Eric Schwartz says we should “… challenge the buying side of your readership to come forward and help us understand why a mandatory signature to the agreement is not in the best interests of the entire industry.”

And so we issue the challenge. Please, buy-side readers, explain your viewpoint. We’ll keep your name anonymous if it need be.

Yet we don’t really think that many on the buy side would deny that either requiring their suppliers to sign on or, at least, requiring third-party audits that all suppliers are meeting or exceeding the standards of the CMA would be good for the industry.

They don’t sign on because they don’t want to say what signing on means.

When Dave Corsi says he is restricting his supply chain, he is saying that Danny Wegman and the Wegmans family would prefer to always have product grown to accepted safety standards than always be the cheapest on lettuce.

And in the end, a refusal to restrict one’s supply chain is a declaration that one would rather be “competitive” on price than offer one’s customers the safest possible product.

That attitude is more than a little scary and a very big problem for the produce industry going forward.

very big problem for the produce industry going forward.

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