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Pundit’s Mailbag — Stenzel Speaks Out
On Food Safety And Food Dudes

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, March 8, 2007

Our piece, A Tip Of The Hat For Stenzel, brought a thank you note plus a commentary on both the state of legislative interest in the produce industry and efforts to increase produce consumption.

Tom Stenzel, President and CEO, United Fresh Produce Association, wanted to draw special attention to our article Food Dudes Beat Junk Punks And Kids Eat More Produce and both praise that program and place it in a larger context:

Thanks much for the nice comments about my recent testimony before the California Senate and Assembly Agriculture Committees. I appreciate the kudos because I know from past personal experience that you are quite even handed in dishing out the critiques as well as the compliments! I’ll enjoy it while I can and not get used to it!

It did get a little fiery in Sacramento with one state senator who just doesn’t seem to be listening to how hard this industry is working to prevent foodborne disease outbreaks. Both the immediate efforts in the California leafy greens industry and the longer-term effort to build strong uniform national standards with FDA oversight really show the commitment of our industry.

I do believe the vast majority of politicians are genuinely motivated by the public interest, and it’s our mutual job to keep the dialogue going and work together wherever possible. Certainly the U.S. Congress is mightily engaged in the food safety debate right now, and we can expect continued hearings, legislation, and regulatory developments at the national level. We just have to keep up the work to shape these government initiatives to serve both public health and enable the industry to grow, pack, process and market safe, healthy and affordable fresh produce. After all, that’s what will build consumption for the even greater public health good.

I was reminded of the important link between our efforts in food safety and increasing consumption by the excellent report that Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott did on the Food Dudes program in yesterday’s Pundit.

This has been a tremendous program, and I’d also like to compliment Laurence Swan of Fyffes for his leadership in getting this program going. He’s been a stalwart in promoting kids consumption of fresh produce through this program, and is one of those inspirational figures in our business.

European officials are actually very engaged right now in seeking ways to increase kid’s consumption. Our VP of Health and Nutrition Dr. Lorelei DiSogra is speaking at a European Union Parliamentary Briefing on April 17 in Brussels about the successful school fruit and vegetable snack programs in the U.K. and the USA, where she’s joining representatives from Norway, France, Belgium and the U.K. in encouraging EU support for these initiatives.

The day before that hearing, the International Fruit and Vegetable Alliance (IFAVA) chaired by Ron Lemaire of CPMA is hosting a workshop for industry members on "Building National and EU Support for Expanding School Fruit and Vegetable Programs." We’re seeing a growing multinational recognition that these types of environmental changes at the school level can be tremendously effective in setting a new behavior pattern for healthy eating among the coming generation.

Anyone who has questions or wants to volunteer to make a difference in encouraging government support for these programs either in the U.S. or Europe is welcome to contact Lorelei or any of us here at United Fresh.

— Tom Stenzel
President & CEO
United Fresh Produce Association

After many years of trying, we probably should have learned by now that just telling people what to do, whether it is to grow safer produce or to eat more vegetables, is not particularly effective.

What the new GAP metrics are about is creating decision trees to help growers know what the right decisions to make are. What the California Marketing Agreement is about is changing the incentives for both carrot — major buyers will consider your product if grown to standard — and stick — you might be shut down if state inspectors find a pattern of non-compliance — so that safer product is the end result. And the Food Dudes program looks at what actually influences behavior of children, as opposed to just lecturing at them.

These new more sophisticated approaches bode well for the industry as we struggle to create safer product, grow consumption and build a stronger industry.

Initiatives like these also require an industry infrastructure and that requires dedicated volunteer leadership at all levels, local to international, in many organizations, including United.

Volunteering is intimidating at first and seems like a tremendous sacrifice. Yet, we’ve known many of the most involved volunteer leaders and we’ve never met one who didn’t feel he got more out of volunteering than he ever put into it.

Many thanks to Tom for his letter.

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