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The Case Of The Stolen Tomatoes: Doesn’t The FBI Know About PTI?

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, May 24, 2011

The police have been quiet since last month when William Neuman at The New York Times wrote the story of a heist of trailer loads of tomatoes with a piece titled Price of Tomatoes Has a Lot to Do With These Thefts. The gist of the story was simple:

… a gang of thieves stole six tractor-trailer loads of tomatoes and a truck full of cucumbers from Florida growers. They also stole a truckload of frozen meat. The total value of the illegal haul: about $300,000.

Though the story played on the angle that the high price of tomatoes — post Mexican freeze — had transformed tomatoes into a “tempting target” and pointed to the suspicions of investigators that someone familiar with the produce hauling industry was behind it all, one suspects that if police get to the bottom of it, someone in the produce industry was highly likely to be involved.

Of course, police might not get to the bottom of it. One of the peculiarities of the media coverage of the matter is that nobody mentioned the Produce Traceability Initiative. Florida growers and packers have been participating in PTI, so one would assume that most of these cases of tomatoes would have easily been identifiable. It would be like trying to sell a “hot car” with a Vehicle Identification Number right on the windshield. Yet it didn’t make law enforcement sound very much on top of things that nobody mentioned PTI. Perhaps this is another example of one part of government not knowing what is going on under the gentle push of another?

Perhaps the only way these tomatoes could be sold would be to a repacker, where the product could lose its identity. The repacker, though, would have to be in on the heist, carefully disposing of the cartons. Repackers don’t buy trailers of tomatoes from people who knock on their doors, so this product would have had a home before it was ever stolen.

Did the FBI and other law enforcement agencies know about PTI? If they did, we can expect another shoe to drop — perhaps right on someone in the produce trade.

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