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Perishable Pundit
P.O. Box 810425
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Ph: 561-994-1118
Fax: 561-994-1610


email:
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Produce Business

Deli Business

American Food & Ag Exporter

Cheese Connoisseur



More Food Safety Lessons From Chinese Ginger Recall

The news reports were bad:

TAINTED CHINESE GINGER WAS
DISTRIBUTED BY GILROY COMPANY

State health officials are warning against eating fresh ginger from China that a Gilroy company distributed to Northern California supermarkets in recent weeks. Tests show it was tainted with an unapproved pesticide.

Although no illnesses have been reported, officials warned that samples of the ginger contained residue from aldicarb sulfoxide, a pesticide that can cause nausea, headache and blurred vision when ingested by humans in small amounts. In larger amounts, it can cause dizziness, sweating, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle stiffness and difficulty breathing.

The ginger was purchased from China by a Los Angeles County importer, which sold it to the Christopher Ranch, a Gilroy food distributor. Bill Christopher, owner of the Gilroy firm, said he bought 18,900 pounds of the ginger and repackaged it before selling it to several grocery stores and wholesalers — including Albertson’s and Save Mart stores in Northern California.

State health officials found the pesticide residue while conducting random testing of samples from local grocery stores. The California Department of Public Health is working with Christopher Ranch, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and several county health departments, to determine how widely the product was distributed.

“We’re very disturbed by what happened,” said Bill Christopher. He said he has contacted his customers and told them to return all the ginger. Consumers are being urged to throw away any imported ginger from Christopher Ranch purchased in recent days.

The boxes were marked as being from China, but Christopher said the ginger may have been transferred into unmarked bins at the retailers.

This news led other companies to issue their own announcements:


From:Jim Provost, I Love Produce
Date of release:July 30, 2007

According to Denson Yee of California Public Health (phone 916-650-6616), the recent ginger recall only affects Chinese ginger imported by Modern Trading Inc., in Alhambra, California. California Public Health is looking into other potential distribution of this product.

I Love Produce buys no ginger from Modern Trading and ensures that all China ginger we handle is scientifically tested for pesticide residue. We are 100% confident that all of the ginger we sell in the United States is free of the aldicarb sulfoxide pesticide and all other pesticides.

Today, it was announced that there was a ginger recall due to aldicarb sulfoxide pesticide residue found in fresh ginger sold in California by a California-based company.

We are certain our ginger is pesticide-free because it is scientifically tested, and it is grown in areas not subject to aldicarb sulfoxide pesticide exposure. In addition, all of our jarred ginger and a significant amount of our fresh ginger is certified organic by the USDA/NOP (United States Department of Agriculture / National Organic Program). Our ginger is also I-FOAM and JONA-certified organic for the EU and Japan markets.

I Love Produce is able to provide the safest products because:

  • We have integral knowledge of the ginger’s origin (i.e., the farms, regions and processors).
  • We only deal with large producers that have large facilities with in-house labs for food safety testing.
  • Food safety testing is conducted on all shipments, ensuring our ginger is pesticide-free.
  • I Love Produce has an office in Jinan, the Capital of Shandong, the largest agricultural state in China. We have first-hand knowledge of production practices in China. We visit the farms and producers of our products each and every week of the year. This enables us to have the greatest product knowledge and provide the safest products and the highest quality.

Without this knowledge, others may buy ginger from a growing region that also grows non-food crops, such as cotton, which uses aldicarb sulfoxide pesticide.

Ginger does not have many natural pests. Conventional cotton production requires pesticides. If ginger is grown on the same land as cotton, there can be cross-contamination.

I Love Produce has built its brand based on food safety, social responsibility, quality and value. We have first-hand knowledge of production practices in China, and therefore have the willingness and ability to provide only the safest produce available.

In part, our business depends on farming in China. We have to do things the right way. Our competitors do not have the vested interest that we do in seeing things though from farmer to the consumer, from the beginning of the process to the end.

We have known Jim Provost for a long time — including when he worked for Christopher Ranch — and his statement strikes us as encapsulating an important part of the food safety debate in the produce industry.

The obvious critique of the announcement from “I Love Produce” is that it smacks of trying to take advantage of Christopher Ranch’s unfortunate situation. The traditional industry position — no marketing of food safety — would condemn “I Love Produce” for not taking a “There but for the grace of God go I” attitude.

Christopher Ranch hasn’t issued a statement, so we will take no position on what it or its importer knows about the source of this ginger.

Long term, the more important point for the industry is that if Jim Provost is accurate — reporting that his company is deeply involved in China and really knows and understands what it is getting, from where and why, etc. — then why isn’t that a legitimate point to promote, at least within the trade?

We could see that on a consumer level this kind of promotion might cause consumer confusion and distrust of produce quality and safety. But on the trade level, how are we going to get companies to invest in expensive food safety and traceability efforts if they can’t tell their customers and prospects why they should prefer to buy from them?

Another issue that is revealed by this particular problem is the use of reputable produce names to cover product that is lacking in food safety systems.

As retailers have tightened up on giving vendor numbers to new suppliers due to a need for more careful review related to food safety and food security, we’re hearing increasing reports of retailers asking their already “approved” vendors to handle product from a third party — perhaps for a small brokerage.

This is a way of getting around new food safety requirements and needs to be stopped.

Equally, we need to look at what we are approving vendors to do. A vendor that may have its own fields third-party audited, follow a water- and soil-testing regime, given tours to the retailer’s VP of Quality Assurance and much more can suddenly have not the most elementary food safety standards when it buys product from another vendor.

It is a complicated issue, especially if a contracted vendor is “buying in” product due to crop failure, but it needs to be taken seriously.

Marks & Spencer in the U.K. has been buying broccoli in the U.S. due to crop failure in Europe. Marks & Spencer has an elaborate and proprietary food safety and social responsibility program and not one broccoli grower in America is certified. But Marks and Spencer has been known to waive its proprietary system due to a crop failure — as long as the grower is EurepGAP-certified. There are only three broccoli growers in America that are EurepGAP-certified so they get the business — although cheaper broccoli is available.

This is a basic food safety issue. Most US buyers have no minimum reference standard. They might be skeptical if some stranger called them up, but if a reputable company calls with goods to sell, they assume they are OK. This is not the case with Marks & Spencer, which would demand to know the provenance and certification.

We’ve discussed issues related to food safety issues from China here, here, here and here. We also had a letter-writer who urged the US to standardize on EurepGAP. What is clear from this escapade with ginger is three things:

  1. Every buyer needs a minimum standard. If it is not EurepGAP, it has to be something else. But every box has to meet some standard.
  2. Vendors can’t be “approved” based on their own production standards and then be allowed to sell third-party product that meets no standards at all.
  3. Traceability “one up and one back” is not sufficient. That is traceability up to the disreputable guy who disappears. A buyer needs traceability back to the grower.

We hope Christopher Ranch finds its way out of this problem with minimal difficulty. As an industry, we may be lucky this problem became public on a small shipment of a minor item. Hopefully nobody will be hurt and the damage to the trade’s reputation slight. If we learn the lessons being laid out for us, the industry will be able to thank Christopher Ranch for a great gift.




Service Wholesalers And Independent Stores

The Pundit spends a fairly substantial portion of his life giving speeches and talks. Keynote addresses before large audiences, broker meetings, board presentations, strategic retreats, chain retail meetings, commodity specific meetings, universities — all in a day’s work.

One group that often calls and often impresses the Pundit is produce-specific service wholesalers. Often, though not always, these service wholesalers grow out of old terminal market wholesalers that adapted because chain retailers started buying direct.

We have, in the past given talks for many of these types of companies, having spoken before such organizations as the Crosset Company, Caito Foods Service and RLB Food Distributors.

Last week, the Pundit had the opportunity to give an after-dinner speech to a group of retailers hosted by Indianapolis Fruit. The Mascari and Corsaro families treated us with extreme hospitality. We had the opportunity to chat with many of the independent retailers, have dinner with some of the company’s leadership team, including Mike Mascari and Shane Towne, who more than competently arranged our trip. We also had a chance to piggyback on a tour of the headquarters facility of Indianapolis Fruit.

When we speak to these types of groups, we often find ourselves left not knowing if we should laugh or cry.

Admittedly, the type of company that asks the Pundit to speak tends to be self-selecting for being progressive and engaged. However, we find many of these service wholesalers are far more progressive than the vast bulk of retailers they service.

Let us use Indianapolis Fruit as an example: To walk with his customers through the company facility with Dan Corsaro, Vice President, leading a tour, you feel as if the industry should give the guy an award. The whole company is so focused on helping its retailers sell more produce. Demos — they’ll back ‘em; training — they’ll provide it; a store needs signage in another language — they’ll find a translator and make it happen.

The tour was nominally about demonstrating the wholesaler’s capability to the retail customers, and that was plentiful — Indianapolis Fruit has its own certified kosher fresh-cut facility, a private-label program, a split-case program for specialties, an organic program that indexes higher than any large conventional chain, and a foodservice sister company — Piazza Produce, Inc. — to provide extra high-end, ethnic and specialty product.

Most of the tour, though, was about Dan pleading with the retailers to take advantage of some small fraction of what Indy Fruit had to offer.

And some do. Maybe 20% of the retailers get it — they lap up what their supplier-partner has to offer and they come to these meetings to learn all they can. After 15 tough years as Wal-Mart rolled across America, these independents are opening new stores, doing expansions and remodels.

But far too many of these retailers are failing to respond — which means that not just their direct supplier but the whole industry is not selling what it could. Among the issues:

1) Technological Hesitation

What do you say when a Produce Manager explains he can’t place his order online because his boss won’t give him Internet access since he might use it to waste time or look at porn? We understand the issues — but think of the hours wasted on both sides doing telephone orders and the decrease in accuracy caused by mistakes due to verbal contact.

2) Clarity and Honesty on Concept

So many independents will talk the game — “We want to be the anti-Wal-Mart and have high service, broad assortment, emphasize organics, high flavor, etc.” — but, in reality, some of these retailers always buy the cheapest product. This makes running a distributor difficult and also means the retailer isn’t even getting the least expensive product he could. Better for the retailer to have an honest, heart to heart on what he needs than to have pretenses. Nothing wrong with an economy-focused operation, but don’t pretend you want to be the king of organic specialty items.

3) Alliance with a Supplier

A few unusual operations maintain sufficient staff to handle produce procurement directly. Most ally with someone to keep the department stocked. One day we will wade into the pros and cons of broadline grocery houses, such as Supervalu, versus produce-specific houses, such as Indianapolis Fruit… For today, it’s enough to say that retailers can align with whomever they choose but should then be committed. Nothing causes inefficiency and raises costs in the system more than irregular ordering. The savings from abandoning a loyal supplier of a multitude of items because someone has a cheaper deal are mostly a chimera as wasted product and time spent dealing with this issue raises prices overall.

4) Food Safety

If an independent retailer is going to buy outside the system, at least make sure you are comparing apples to apples. Most reputable service wholesalers buy from reputable sources and maintain audit trails. You can’t compare what they are selling to what is sold by a stranger who pulls up at the back of the store with a truck full of musk melons from unknown sources.

The service wholesaler is the link between the independent retailer and the produce supply chain. When an independent goes outside that system, it puts the whole industry at risk.

It was simply great to be among people who have made it their task to help retailers sell more produce. The industry owes a lot to people all over the country who do the same thing every day. We were pleased to be a part of the effort. Many thanks to the Indianapolis Fruit people for their kind hospitality.




Farm Bill’s Produce Pittance Points To Apathy For Government Relations

Here at Pundit Central, we have received at least 40 press releases from various organizations celebrating the recent passage in the U.S. House of Representatives of a new Farm Bill, which includes more funding for nutrition and conservation initiatives, including more money for fresh produce than ever before.

It is a triumph for the Specialty Crop Farmers Alliance, and we applauded our industry government relations efforts here.

Yet in these 40 press releases, we find a succinct explanation for why people in the industry don’t always support government-relations efforts, despite their importance.

The gist of these 40 press releases is the same: The new Farm Bill has allocated about $2 billion for the produce industry. Most of the releases mention all or some of the places that $2 billion is going:

  • USDA Fruit and Vegetable School Snack Program,
  • State block grants to increase industry competitiveness,
  • Purchase more fruits and vegetables for school lunch,
  • Expand the DOD Fresh Program for schools,
  • Provide technical assistance to address international market access issues,
  • Invest in specialty crop research including produce food safety,
  • Enhance programs to prevent invasive plant pests and disease,
  • Target funding to address conservation priorities.

Here is the interesting point: Out of all these press releases, we cannot find even one that mentions the total cost of the bill. Maybe that is because it is $268 billion, and so the money for produce is less than 1% of the cost of the bill.

Of course, the industry advocates would argue that a Farm Bill would pass with or without produce industry support, and if we didn’t get “ours,” some other interest would just get more.

These industry advocates are probably correct.

But the lack of enthusiasm is understandable when “success” in government relations is basically defined in a way whereby special interests demand their bit to the detriment of the country as a whole.

And silence on real outrages is bought for the price of 1% of a bill.




Unhealthy Restaurant Salads

The Pundit and Mrs. Pundit are uncertain if it is love of the Jr. Pundits or a masochistic streak — but we elected to spend the family’s summer vacation in Pennsylvania visiting various child-centered theme parks. For a few days, we are here at the Hotel Hershey visiting Hersheypark. From here we will continue on to Dutch Wonderland and finish up at Sesame Street Place.

Considering Hersheypark was founded on chocolate — the big celebration here is the 100th birthday of the Hershey Kiss — it is interesting to note that the park makes a real effort to have salads and “healthy” fare available at its mostly fast-food eating operations in the park.

Eating the salads rather than hamburgers certainly makes us feel like we are doing something virtuous. And, perhaps, the dishes are even a little lighter on our stomachs as we walk the park under the hot Pennsylvania summer sun.

Yet whether we are extending life span or even doing something to help the Pundit’s more than ample waistline is far less certain.

The problem: We could make the salads more slimming by using lemon juice instead of dressing, holding the feta or bleu cheese, skipping the croutons or roll served with the salad and watch the meat on the salad, but it feels like buying from the salad menu should be enough virtue for a vacation.

AOL has been running a little slideshow on the subject of Unhealthy Restaurant Salads:

Salad Shockers

When you’re watching your weight, salad is an obvious meal choice. But dieters beware: A lot of seemingly healthy salads pack more calories and fat than a plate of french fries. After looking at this revealing survey of some popular restaurants salads, you’ll want to rethink what and how you order.

Saturated Salmon

With ingredients like organic greens, tomatoes and grilled salmon, Ruby Tuesday’s Grilled Salmon Salad sounds like a low-cal lunch. However, with a shocking 590 calories and 35 grams of fat, this salad is not a lean choice. Watch out for the addition of mozzarella, dressing and parmesan cheese, which greatly increase both calories and fat.

Et Tu, Caesar?

Grilled chicken on a bed of greens sounds like a dieter’s delight. But with a whopping 680 calories and 48 grams of fat, Dairy Queen’s Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad does more damage to your diet than their deluxe cheeseburger. Delete the dressing and you’ll reduce the calories to a mere 390.

Going South

While we were unable to find any nutrition information for Chili’s Southwestern Cobb Salad (or for anything else on their menu) on the chain’s official site, published reports put this salad’s calorie count somewhere between 900 and 1,100 calories. That’s more than half the amount of daily calories recommended for the average person trying to lose — or even maintain — weight. While we love a good Cobb salad, for those calories, you could chow down three medium sized slices of cheese pizza.

Waistline Watchout

Walnuts, apples, dried cranberries and lettuce have the makings of a delicious, healthy salad. However, when paired with blue cheese and dressed, like Pizzaria Uno’s Chicken Waldorf Salad, you wind up with a nutritional nightmare. A good way to shave off some of the 920 calories and 62 grams of fat is to get the dressing on the side and strictly limit your blue cheese intake.

Sneaky Salad

Lurking in the nutritious-sounding mix of pistachios, pears, dried cranberries and gorgonzola in Cosi’s popular Signature Salad is 683 calories and 52 grams of fat. The biggest offender? The oil-laden roasted shallot sherry vinaigrette dressing. Forget the dressing and you’ll cut the calories and fat by half.

This Is Nuts

Chicken and pecans sound like a healthy combo. But the sugar-filled “sweet-glaze” coating the nuts, the breading on the chicken and the gobs of blue cheese on T.G.I. Friday’s Pecan-Crusted Chicken Salad adds up to a staggering 750 calories and 50 grams of fat. With that calorie and fat count, you may as well eat a burger.

Southwest Disaster

Arby’s Sante Fe salad — mixed greens topped with chicken, salsa, cheese, roasted corn and tomatoes — sounds like a zesty and light dish. But look closely and you’ll see the chicken is battered then fried, as are the tortilla strips that come with it. Add it up and this lunch will cost you a shocking 844 calories and 55 grams fat. Skip the strips and hold the ranch dressing and you’ll skim 367 calories from your plate.

That’s Almost Right

Of all the salads on Wendy’s menu, the Mandarin Chicken Salad seems a safe bet. There are no layers of cheese or even bacon bits, just a blend of lettuce, mandarin oranges, diced chicken, almonds and crispy noodles. So why does this dish carry 520 calories and 25 grams of fat? The sesame dressing packs a whollop. Slim about 100 calories from your salad by substituting a berry balsamic vinaigrette or plain vinegar instead.

It is increasingly obvious that one reason all these various initiatives to change diets don’t have much impact is that they are not reducing calorie consumption. Switching from eating a burger and fries to a salad with cheese, chicken, fried wontons, sugar-infused dried cranberries and luxuriant dressing may help in some minor way we don’t really understand very well — phytochemicals and all that — but to reduce America’s waistline, we need to bring caloric intake in line with caloric output.




Pundit’s Mailbag — A First-Step Suggestion For Merging PMA/United

For many months we’ve hosted discussions on the subject of a possible merger between PMA and United. When both associations recently confirmed that new talks were being conducted regarding a merger or other forms of cooperation, we ran an in-depth piece entitled, An Industry Discussion: Pros And Cons Of A PMA/United Merger, which attempted to analyze the basic issues at stake in these discussions.

We’ve received many responses, and we dealt with two of them in a piece entitled, Pundit’s Mailbag — Finding The Right Answers For Possible PMA And United Merger. This was quickly followed by another letter, which we addressed in Pundit’s Mailbag — PMA And United Need To Remain Separate.

We then picked up an additional letter, which came from a United board member. We called the piece, Pundit’s Mailbag — Getting The Facts Straight On United’s Global Outreach, which dealt with United’s international efforts.

We’ve also dealt with topics that overlapped on the United/PMA merger discussion. Cool Compromise Shows Association Leadership But Battle Scars Remain was one such piece as was another letter, which we dealt with in Pundit’s Mailbag — What Is The Best Model For industry Lobbying Efforts?

Now Harris Cutler, who possesses both a strong mind and industry dedication, weighs in with an interesting idea:

Regarding the potential for the getting together of PMA and United. May I suggest a short first step.

When at a PMA convention in San Diego a number of years ago, I was asked to join a panel at a National Association of Perishable Agricultural Receivers (NAPAR) meeting to discuss a potential merger between PMA and United, (Jeff Gargiulo was the Chairman of PMA at that time). I spoke of the potential clout that the new organization would have.

In thinking of how I could possibly offer assistance to this effort, I thought that perhaps the two associations could actually send six or less representatives from each association and the two professionals and form a new interim group that could be invested with the cause of speaking for the industry. This new group would be the authorized and official voice of all of us.

We would then have one voice that could react to public concerns, government regulations, and anything that would require a response.

The Pundit could say this much better than I can, but perhaps what needs to be done first is to see if the egos can step aside quietly in favor of the cause.

The result of a focus of efforts on all our areas of concern would be tremendous. If every member of PMA and United got hold of their elected officials right now, we could do anything. I mean anything. We are the most admired industry in the country — no other industry comes close.

Our food is healthy, reasonably priced, and delicious. All of it. The promotion of our industry interests will always be watered down when there is more than one authorized voice speaking for the industry. This is the time for this to happen.

Jim, you have the vehicle to make it happen. Everyone is reading your column, perhaps not every single day, but I would offer that it is the most forwarded produce information on the net, with no one in second place.

The “clout” that a combined United and PMA would have would be amazing.

Thanks as always for your fearless and strong journalism.

It is so important to our industry’s future.

— Harris Cutler
President
Race-West Company
Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania

We appreciate this letter very much. Partly because we greatly appreciate the kind words about the Pundit. Mostly, however, it is because if the industry is to advance, ideas have to be put on the table and Harris, in a very specific and valuable way, is doing that here. It is a genuine service to the trade for which he should be commended.

Obviously, of course, not all the ideas will be adopted, but brainstorming is important. If people hesitate to put ideas out there because they might not be adopted or will, after analysis, be discovered to be impractical, many good ideas will never be considered.

So many thanks to Harris for giving us all some valuable food for thought.

Our initial take on the idea is that it falls into the category of “interesting, if practical.”

To the extent that the motivation for considering merging the associations is to create “one unified voice,” Harris proposes to do it by taking both PMA and United out of the policy-setting arena.

In other words, each association could do what it wishes in terms of programming and conventions but each would forswear public policy and leave that to a separate board. .

Yet on several levels, we question whether this could be implemented:

First, the meshing of the two association boards into one policy board strikes us as arbitrary — perhaps an evasion of the decision that has to be made. After all, if United partisans would not be satisfied to give PMA’s board the authority to speak for the industry, well, why would they agree to give it blocking power on industry statements? Same goes with PMA partisans when it comes to United speaking for the industry.

Second, although it is easy to think that Government Relations is mostly about policy pronouncements — speaking for the industry — that is rarely so. There are whole years that pass without major “policy pronouncements” by associations. The nuts and bolts of government relations play out on a much more detailed and prolonged turf. For example, the FDA or the USDA might wind up getting authority to regulate produce safety — which means there could be years of back-and-forth comment periods and private meetings, all to determine the specifics of what this pre-determined policy actually would mean.

And the questions the industry would get asked tend to be technical questions as much as policy questions.

The best analogy might be the subject of national defense. Wanting a strong national defense is a policy pronouncement. Yet the implementation of that policy is reflected by hundreds, probably thousands of votes and regulations on discrete weapon systems. Congress may or may not vote on a pronouncement that it wants a strong national defense, but whether we get one is determined by the vote to raise military salaries, to build a particular missile system and what not.

So this Platonic board — sitting in abstract, defining the essence of produce industry positions — probably wouldn’t have that much to do and couldn’t be very effective without a staff working day-to-day, hand-in-hand with FDA, USDA, Congressional staffers, etc., to make policy.

Third, it is true, as Harris says, that if we were truly “united,” we could achieve a great deal. But we are not always “united” because we sometimes have different interests. Think of automobile manufacturers and automobile dealers. Together they are strong, and sometimes they do work together, but when they are divided, they are each other’s most bitter opponents. Is it so different in produce?

Fourth, a separate board maintained in perpetuity with a pre-determined breakdown of board seats, detached from the membership numbers of any association, is bound to cause problems down the road. It is like Lebanon’s constitution. Based on a long-ago census, the country divided its top jobs by religion. Then it was afraid to hold a census forever more, as changes in the demographic makeup of the country would unsettle those settled arrangements.

Even assuming a 50/50 split was acceptable today on the board — and PMA as the larger association would surely object — what if membership ratios change over time, as they surely will? One day someone will ask why industry policy is being made based on this formula.

Fifth, actually it won’t be “one day,” it will be more like next week. So if an issue such as NAFTA or PACA comes up and the “new board” doesn’t act or acts in opposition to somebody’s interests, a new association will be formed, a regional group will be empowered, and we will be back where we started.

Sixth, who will care about United? United has many fine programs, but the passion behind United comes from trade perception that United is the government relation’s arm for the production end of the produce industry. If it loses that because some board is now handling things — we can only assume it will have enormous difficulty retaining membership.

Seventh, who will pay for government relations? This proposed board could issue pronouncements on policy, but it would have no staff or money to lobby or attempt to actualize these positions. Yet surely it is unrealistic to think that the two associations would independently fund efforts to actualize policies that their own boards might oppose.

Eighth, it seems unlikely either association would agree to such a plan for the simple reason that they are membership-driven organizations and so feel a need to be responsive to their members. This is an often-overlooked point. Although United and PMA are popularly perceived as representing “the produce industry,” they really represent their members and these do not always overlap.

Ninth, whatever its merits, such “clean-sheet thinking” of how the produce industry should be organized probably won’t happen. We have existing organizations, with different levels of success, different strengths and weaknesses and, contrary to what Thomas Paine may have said, we probably do not have it in our power to begin the world anew.

We suppose if one were pessimistic about United’s future and assume that the FMI alliance will crash and burn and United will lose that revenue source… if we assume that WGA will rally other regionals to be a strong independent voice for growers in DC… one could make a case for why United should consider such a deal, but why would PMA choose to voluntarily give up its right to make policy decisions?

Tenth, a lot of the pressure for a merger over the years has come from large industry members that did not want the burden of funding two separate trade associations. This proposal doesn’t solve that dilemma; it actually institutionalizes it, so many of the strongest advocates of merger, won’t support this proposal.

One other point worth making: Here at the Pundit we have had the opportunity to work pretty closely with both national associations, and we do not perceive the failure to merge over the years as being in any significant way a function of egos.

It is a function of different perspectives — one leaning toward the production end and the other toward the procurement end of the business.

It is a function of different purposes — one driven by government relations and one by marketing and supply-chain management.

It is a function of different memberships — if there was 100% overlap between PMA and United, the problem would be easier to solve.

Because retailers and foodservice operators contribute little in a financial sense, the two associations frustrate big producers as — one way or another — they pay to support both associations. But on a functional level, the two associations have always been different enough that a merger would have always meant a loss for somebody. Which is why it has never happened.

What we don’t currently know is how the insiders at United view United’s financial future — do they see the FMI situation as a big loss of revenue? Do they believe that WGA will eat into United’s membership as it promotes its new DC presence? If so, and PMA is respectful, then United may make a deal.

If not, then nothing is likely to happen in these current discussions.

Many thanks to Harris for his thought-provoking contribution.

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