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NRA Stands Defiant

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, March 9, 2007

We’ve been carefully following the activities of the National Restaurant Association when it comes to fresh produce and food safety.

We started our coverage by announcing that NRA Forms Produce Safety Working Group. Then we published National Restaurant Association Soon To Unveil Its Own Food Safety Plan. We followed that up with An Open Letter To The Board Of Directors Of The National Restaurant Association and urged the association to work with its supplier base to achieve food safety. Then we published Second Appeal to NRA, in which we pointed out that the produce industry welcomes the input of NRA’s scientists and those of its members.

The NRA is, however, like a train speeding along without a driver, and it is not clear that it understands the accident it will cause.

NRA intends to announce new food safety standards at a conference in Monterey at the end of March. These standards will reject the sufficiency of the standards that are about to be adopted as the accepted Good Agricultural Practice document under the California Marketing Agreement.

Yet NRA will not share with the produce industry what areas of the GAP draft NRA has concerns about.

In fact, every indication is that NRA has no scientific concerns but just wants to be seen as the toughest guy on the block.

Of course, these “tough” standards are being announced too late for the Salinas season. So they can have no effect on food safety for months and, indeed, only ensure that NRA’s own members won’t have access to product that conforms to NRA recommendations.

The recommendation is bound to increase the liability of NRA members as, instead of selling product that they can claim was certified to meet California Marketing Agreement standards, they will now have to acknowledge that they knowingly sold produce that their own association claimed was not grown to an acceptable food safety standard.

Why is NRA doing this when the produce industry is more than willing to work with NRA?

Maybe because an association in between leaders can easily see its agenda hijacked. The CEO of the NRA resigned. Right now the association is searching for a new CEO. Peter G. Gilore is acting as interim President and CEO.

All this change is not conducive to true leadership. And right now the superficial appeal is to “be strong” and position NRA as demanding food safety from its suppliers.

True food safety, as with true leadership, is more complex. And the bottom line is that only an integrated supply chain can deliver the safest possible food. It is not too late to make that happen — but time is running out.

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