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Perishable Pundit
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PMA/United Merger-Mention Stirs Emotions

The question of whether PMA and United ought to merge seems a hot button issue for many industry members. We raised the issue here and dealt with some initial response, both pro and con, right here.

Now we have a thoughtful response from John McClung, who is currently the President of the Texas Produce Association. John and I have what might be called a “history” together as he directed United’s government relations efforts during a time when the Pundit was very involved with United, working with staff members such as Anne Day and Debbie Moss as well as then President, George Dunlop, on a daily basis. John has some issues with what we wrote in the context of a discussion of the possibility of a PMA/United merger:

I generally agree with you about most things. I agree that the industry should once again seriously contemplate a merger of United and PMA. I’m not at all sure such a merger would be found to be in the overall interests of the industry, but it should be considered. But I could not disagree with you more regarding United’s effectiveness as a government relations instrument. In fact, United has become one of the more successful agricultural lobbying entities in Washington, and finally has the requisite technical staff to compete in the slow, inexorable trend of many years toward a technocracy-based system.

In fact, United has been politically effective going back to before the time I ran the government relations program there. But in my day, and before, the association lacked the financial strength to really muscle up and play in the big leagues. Tom Stenzel has gone a very long way in remedying those shortcomings, and he has pulled together a thoroughly professional team.

I have heard criticism like yours of United’s government relations program for as long as I can remember. But interestingly, I never heard such broad criticism from anybody who knew what they were talking about. I never heard it from the political pros within the DC beltway. I never heard it from the staffs on Capitol Hill, who probably have the best day-by-day take on the performance of the many agricultural organizations. I never heard it from the other non-produce association lobbyists who, it might be noted, are endlessly competitive and quick to criticize given the flimsiest reason. I did sometimes hear issue-specific criticism from other knowledgeable produce lobbyists who took issue with something United did — or didn’t do.

Perhaps the controversy over Country-of-Origin Labeling is the most dramatic recent example, but that now has resulted in an industry-endorsed legislative proposal that seems entirely reasonable to me; we’ll have to see what the Congress does with it. And in any event, the regional/commodity groups, including mine, have their own agendas and their own interests to pursue, and sometimes we’re more interested in “looking good” to our own members than we are in having United look good.

That isn’t to say United does everything perfectly. They make mistakes. They fail to communicate. They misread the tea leaves. They get sideways between legitimate competing interests. And when they do, I and my colleagues in the regional associations and commodity groups are quick to bring them to heal. As are you, and rightly so. But only a naive pundit from outside Washington could misconstrue an occasional stumble for a weak government relations program. And only someone who’s never played the game could be so certain of the validity of his perceptions on influencing government. And only someone playing favorites would have written the piece you wrote.

Do you really believe the day will ever come when the regulatory agencies, FDA or any others will turn to an industry association in the heat of a crisis for guidance on what must be done to protect the public? For facts and details and insights, yes. But for policy direction, not a snowball’s chance. Do you really think they should? Come on, Jim — that’s just plain dumb. It’s foolish of you — and Stenzel, for that matter — to suggest that any industry government relations program will, or should, ever have that kind of authority. The difference is, Stenzel is saying it for industry relations reasons, knowing full well what the realities are. You aren’t.

There are a number of reasons the produce industry struggles on occasion with government relations. For one, we don’t have a federal subsidy program to protect. If you take a close look at the big agricultural lobbying machines in Washington, they are from the industry sectors with multi-million dollar subsidies underwriting their members — dairy, food and feed grains, cotton, etc. We don’t have a federal sugar daddy to take care of.

Secondly, most of the produce industry’s mass is in a handful of states. Fortunately, they are among the most politically significant states, but still it is difficult to have much influence in the Midwest, the Northeast, the Midsouth, etc. This limitation is particularly vexing when the supply side of the industry, represented by United and the regional groups, is in conflict with the retail side. There are grocery stores in every town in every political district in the country.

Third, we aren’t really an industry at all. We’re a bunch of little industries loosely cobbled together who have some objectives in common but who lose interest in working together in a heartbeat when we think the threat is pointed at somebody — anybody — else. So, although food safety risks are universal, it’s difficult to get the Texas onion industry fired up about an outbreak linked to California spinach. Or the Florida tomato industry to care about apple imports. Or the Pennsylvania mushroom folks to care about much of anything not having to do directly with mushrooms. I could go on and on and on with these examples, but I’m sure you’d rather I didn’t.

Finally, perhaps most important but also most difficult to characterize, the segments of the fresh fruit and vegetable industry simply don’t have the tradition and history of activist political involvement. Individuals in the industry don’t see the need to get their hands dirty in Washington — or their state capitals, for that matter. They don’t think they can play the game; they don’t know how and they don’t want to learn. They think if they approach their members of Congress on some issue, all that will happen is they’ll get donation solicitations for the rest of their lives. And, they think lobbying is what they pay United, the regionals, and recently maybe even PMA to do.

I’ve often said that lobbying for the industry is like being a proctologist: your clients know they have a problem and need your expertise, but they want you to get in fast, get out fast, tell them as little as possible about what you saw, and keep the bill to a minimum. The problem with all of this is that real political strength comes from the proverbial grass roots. The industry’s hired guns, including United’s staff, play a key role in educating Congress and the regulatory agencies, and — whether one approves or not — in making timely campaign contributions from the various Political Action Committees. But at the end of the day, the best lobbyist is good old what’s-his-name from the Congressperson’s home district.

For you to suggest that PMA’s lobbying capabilities rival United’s is simply specious. I have the greatest respect for PMA’s staff, but they just don’t have the capability to date to be a full service government relations force. They’ve never claimed that role. My personal opinion is that PMA stuck its toe in the government relations pool in response to United’s partnering with FMI in their convention/trade show. Whether I’m right or wrong, it is not in the industry’s overall interest to have competing national organizations. It well may be in the industry’s interests, however, to have two organizations complimenting one another in crucial matters where there is a shared objective, and going their separate ways where there are differences in goals. My suspicion is that the former would be much more commonplace than the latter. That said, United remains largely a grower/shipper-driven organization, and PMA remains largely a retail-driven organization, so there will be disconnects in the future.

To tell the truth, I think it’s amusing the way both organizations bend over backwards to accommodate one another, at least in public, and maybe in private for all I know. I’m not so sure the perceived affection is altogether genuine. But I am sure that for the staffs and boards of both, it is in response to an overwhelming desire on the industry’s part to avoid destructive competition and to merge strengths. Whether this will ultimately lead to a merger of organizations remains to be seen.

But until that happens — or doesn’t happen — the industry is well represented before the national government by United, with help from us geniuses in the field. And, Jim, it would be even better represented if you’d understand that no association wins all its battles, any more than any pundit gets all his opinions right. Moreover, for major issues such as immigration reform, farm bills, country-of-origin, PACA, rewriting of the food safety laws, and the like, it is often a multi-year effort with a kiss-your-sister compromise at the end.

In Washington, victory usually means agreeing on middle ground. As for the spinach meltdown, no association, no team of lobbyists, no big-bucks consulting or law firm, could have caused FDA to behave substantially differently than it did. Nor, at the risk of enraging some industry folk, should we be able to. Stenzel and Bryan Silbermann understand that, regardless of what they said at the spinach session, and so should you.

John’s missive is thoughtful and we appreciate his critique. Since we’ve been getting chewed out by people passionate about both organizations, we must have been fairly even handed. Still, let me clarify a few points in the original piece.

First, several PMA partisans complained about the line where I said that from a PMA perspective, a merger would “… bring the scientific and technical competency [of United] into PMA …” as they thought this was implying that PMA has no technical competency. In the context in which we were writing, we thought it was clear, and it was certainly our intent to confine our remarks to scientific and technical competency in regard to food safety and microbiology.

United, after its merger with IFPA, now employs both Dr. Jim Gorny, Vice President, Technology and Regulatory Affairs, and Dr. David Gombas, Vice President, Technical Service, both experts in Plant Science, Microbiology and Food Science. There are no PhD’s on the staff of PMA at the current time and, even during the industry conference calls, PMA President Bryan Silbermann would often defer to these experts when technical issues came up.

This being said, PMA has certainly been the leader in dealing with technical matters in the marketing chain, going back to PLU and UPC codes and now dealing with RFID, RSS and GTIN. But this is not what we were talking about in this article. It might be worth mentioning that the Board of Directors of PMA seem to also have perceived this as a weakness, as after the spinach/E. coli crisis they allocated funds to boost PMA’s scientific and technical staff in the food safety area.

Second, and more to the point of John’s letter, the juxtaposition of two things in the initial piece led some, including John, to think I was implying that United did a bad job at government relations and that United and PMA have equivalent government relations efforts. We did not intend that inference to be drawn from what was written, as we do not believe either of those things are true. Here is what we wrote:

The spinach/E. coli crisis impressed many with three ideas:

  1. There is a need for the trade to have a single front in Washington.
  2. There is no clear distinction between what PMA and United are doing in D.C., and there is a lot of duplication and waste between the government relations efforts of the two associations.
  3. Whoever is doing government relations hasn’t been successful in building the kind of relationships that are crucial for the industry to create and maintain.

Number three is probably the most important. When United’s President Tom Stenzel indicated (at PMA’s town hall meeting on the spinach crisis, which we dealt with here) that he thought the key to understanding the FDA’s actions was understanding that they didn’t have faith in the produce industry and our products, the obvious question is: Whose fault is that?

The intent was to say that the industry divides its government relations expenditures amongst several organizations: United, PMA and WGA were most prominent in this crisis, but plenty of other groups also play a role, from the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association to the Texas Produce Association to the Northwest Horticulture Council, plus many more organizations.

There is no clear distinction between what PMA and United are currently doing. In other words, it is not as if it has been agreed that PMA will handle regulatory matters and United will handle lobbying or that United will handle the effort on immigration and PMA will handle food safety. It is in this sense that there is no distinction between their efforts.

Of course, United, with its Washington Public Policy Conference, its D.C.-based location, its staffing levels and lobbying focus, runs a significantly more extensive government relations program than United. Indeed, for United, government relations is its raison d’etre. PMA could stop doing government relations and many would still want to be members. If United stopped this work, it is not clear that many would choose to support the association.

In saying that there is no distinction between what the associations are doing, I was stating that there is no clear divide by function or by issue — not that there was no distinction in staffing levels, approach, effectiveness, etc.

In addition, when I said “Whose fault is that?” I regret the juxtaposition with Tom Stenzel’s name. It was not my intent to imply, as it is not my belief, that it was Tom Stenzel’s “fault.”

I praised Tom Stenzel in our report on the Town Hall Meeting on spinach when I wrote that “…Tom Stenzel seemed the one most willing to, at least obliquely, challenge the decisions of the regulators…”

However, Tom was the one who identified the problem at the core of the crisis as being a lack of trust in the produce industry. And the overreach of the regulatory authorities urging people not to eat spinach from New Jersey, Colorado, Maryland and other places completely unaffected by this issue is a strong indication that Tom is correct.

A plane crashes and the FAA’s inclination is that the planes are basically safe, the air traffic system is basically sound, the pilots are basically well trained; so they treat it as an aberration unless given extraordinary reasons to think otherwise.

Our interpretation of Tom’s remarks was that we have to build up the confidence of the regulators in the produce industry so that they will react the way aviation regulators generally react.

Now John says to the Pundit: Do you really believe the day will ever come when the regulatory agencies, FDA or any others, will turn to an industry association in the heat of a crisis for guidance on what must be done to protect the public? For facts and details and insights, yes. But for policy direction, not a snowball’s chance. Do you really think they should? Come on, Jim — that’s just plain dumb.

Dumb like a fox. There was a famous wheeler-dealer by the name of Meshulam Riklis, a famous buyer and seller of companies (and, for a while, the husband of Pia Zadora), who did his business under a massive sign that said: “You can name the price, if I can name the terms.” Our take is that if you are the one the government turns to for facts, details and insights — you are, de facto, pretty influential in setting policy.

As to the substantive issue of how effective United’s government relations efforts are… as with most things in life, the answer is mixed. The fact that they were able to get the United States Secretary of Agriculture to come to their convention and give a speech shows great strength. However, the fact that the speech he gave last May had so little to do with our industry that it could have been delivered to the Farm Bureau shows that United still has plenty of work to do.

The truth is that history and circumstances have given United a raw deal. Its focus on government relations is not remunerative for the association. The industry has, over the past 15 years, shown a willingness to pay more in dues to support the effort, but it is meeting resistance now.

The Pundit raised the issue of a merger because it was raised by many top people at the PMA convention but, in time, the bigger issue may be financial. In the middle of its annual convention, the produce industry was flummoxed when, in a startling surprise, FMI announced that it was making shift to doing a trade show on alternative years.

This whole issue may be moot if United can’t generate additional income.

If so, the industry will have to confront many of the issues John raises. The Pundit thinks we do a service by encouraging us to think about them now.




Western Growers Association
Calls For Mandatory Food Safety Standards

The industry response to the regulatory and legislative environment following the spinach/E .coli crisis has entered a new phase as the Western Growers Association has called for a California Marketing Agreement and a Marketing Order, which impose mandatory food safety standards for spinach and leafy greens:

WESTERN GROWERS BOARD TAKES ACTION
TO REQUIRE MANDATORY FOOD SAFETY PRACTICES

Western Growers announces plans to initiate state and federal Marketing Orders that include mandatory food safety practices with government enforcement.

IRVINE, CA (October 30, 2006) — Western Growers today announced that it will take action to initiate a California Marketing Agreement and a Marketing Order that establish mandatory Good Agriculture Practices (GAP) that strengthen spinach and leafy green food safety procedures. The action by the Western Growers Board of Directors would also include the initiation of a federal marketing order to develop comprehensive and mandatory national spinach and leafy green food safety standards.

The effect of these actions, when completed, will be to impose enhanced and mandatory food safety processes on all aspects of growing, packing, processing and shipping of spinach and leafy greens. Enforcement and process verification will be overseen by state and federal government regulatory agencies.

“Our industry is at a crossroads,” commented Tom Nassif, President and CEO of Western Growers. “The consuming public, lawmakers, state and federal government agencies as well as our members want greater assurances that the healthy, fresh produce we provide is safe. The actions approved by our board of directors will help ensure that improved food safety standards are universally understood and adhered to.”

Federal marketing orders are administered by the Agricultural Marketing Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. State marketing agreements and orders are administered by the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s Market Enforcement Branch. Marketing orders and marketing agreements are state or federal regulatory programs that can include mandatory inspections, process verification, food safety research, methods of growing, harvesting and handling and, ultimately, sanctions for non-compliance.

“In this case, the state and federal marketing order will be used to put teeth into food safety practices and guidelines by making them mandatory and by imposing sanctions on those who do not follow those guidelines,” said Nassif. “This is a very specific and substantial action by Western Growers. Businesses are not accustomed to proposing that they be subjected to mandated government guidelines. However, our members’ ultimate goal is to protect the health and safety of the families who consume our products.”

In addition, Western Growers has formed a close working relationship with other association partners: the Produce Marketing Association, United Fresh Produce Association, Grower Shipper Association of Central California and the California Farm Bureau Federation. “We were very pleased by the reactions of our association partners to our proposed plan to develop mandatory good agricultural practices and to initiate mandatory marketing orders at the state and federal levels. We have encouraged them to ask their respective boards to support our actions,” said Nassif.

Western Growers is an agriculture trade association whose members grow, pack and ship 90 percent of the fresh fruits, nuts and vegetables grown in California and 75 percent of those commodities in Arizona. This totals about half of the nation’s fresh produce.

The California State Senator who held hearings in Sacramento regarding the Spinach/E. coli crisis has issued a statement of praise for the proposal:

Senator Dean Florez, D-Shafter, who held hearings into the recent E. coli outbreak from fresh bagged spinach that killed three and sickened hundreds and who has announced plans for a package of legislation dubbed the California Produce Safety Action Plan to help ward off future outbreaks, released the following statement today in response by Western Growers’ announcement that they will support enhanced, mandatory food safety processes for spinach and leafy greens: “I applaud the industry’s public recognition of the need for mandatory regulations to ensure food safety, and I look forward to convening a follow-up hearing to better understand what Western Growers is proposing. This is the type of call to action that we were encouraging at the Governmental Organization hearing, so I’m encouraged by this news.”

“Still, we can’t discount what happened and the failure of the state’s responsibility on these issues over the course of nine outbreaks. We need these reforms written into law through the California Produce Safety Action Plan to ensure that we have in place real enforcement and prevention, so that the state will not remain passive in its response to future outbreaks. I look forward to discussing this proposal and incorporating these concepts into legislation that will ensure California produce remains second to none.”

The proposal is intriguing and raises three issues:

  1. It seems to supersede the voluntary buyer-led effort that we commented on here. In our piece, we commented on the fact that many felt mandatory efforts were essential but pointed out that the effort could still serve an important role:

    That doesn’t mean the buyer-led effort is misguided. In the past, many of the rules that govern the produce industry were developed by private organizations and then, later, codified in law or regulation. One wonders if this effort isn’t best thought of as an attempt to develop a plan that could be submitted to government for review and implementation through legislation or regulation.
  2. The proposal makes reference to WGA’s “association partners”:

    In addition, Western Growers has formed a close working relationship with other association partners: the Produce Marketing Association, United Fresh Produce Association, Grower Shipper Association of Central California and the California Farm Bureau Federation. “We were very pleased by the reactions of our association partners to our proposed plan to develop mandatory good agricultural practices and to initiate mandatory marketing orders at the state and federal levels. We have encouraged them to ask their respective boards to support our actions,” said Nassif.

Yet it seems odd that a proposal that calls for “…a federal marketing order to develop comprehensive and mandatory national spinach and leafy green food safety standards” —meaning a national program — would be released at all without the unanimous backing of all these associations.

It seems to add credence to those who think we need to merge United and PMA to present a united front in D.C., a subject we’ve dealt with here, here and here.

A National Marketing Order could be arranged in such a way as to cover imports as well as domestic product. This is done with both the National Mango Board and the Hass Avocado Board and addresses the issue that Tom Nassif raised previously, which we covered on October 2, 1006:

Voluntary implementation is what the industry has always wanted, but I am starting to find it difficult to believe that this will hold. We need, as an industry, to reexamine the point. Tom Nassif of Western Growers Association, raises a valid point about holding foreign producers to the same high food safety standard, but it is difficult to hold foreign producers to voluntary standards.

By going to a mandatory standard, they solve this problem.

The question is: Will the FDA feel bound by this? That is, will the FDA accept the food safety efforts as satisfactory or look to impose additional regulations? We need to get to a place where the FDA will blame government, not industry, if there is another food safety outbreak and the players all obeyed the rules.

But the decision to endorse mandatory food safety rules is epochal and has enormous implications. There is zero logical reason to think this would be confined to spinach and leafy greens. Melons, green onions and tomatoes are bound to be next.




Botulism And Carrot Juice Summary XI

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.




Spinach Crisis Summary Rewind XXI

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 right 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.

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.

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

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.

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