Pundit’s Mailbag —
Dole’s Schwartz Comments On Silent Buyers
Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, March 28, 2007
Our piece Tim York Points Out Buyer Commitment To Food Safety brought this trenchant commentary:
Tim York and Dave Corsi have gone above and beyond in helping drive the leafy greens food safety initiatives. The reality is that only Markon (Tim York) and Wegmans (Dave Corsi) have specifically spelled out that their leafy greens suppliers must be a signatory to the CA Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement.
Unfortunately, the other 20 companies that were signatories to a January 19, 2007, letter to the CA Dept of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) requesting that the agreement be implemented, have gone silent and left Tim and Dave out in front to explain why the others only “strongly encouraged” and didn’t make it a matter of doing business or not going forward.
Dole did not sign on because of last year’s spinach incident. We did it because the floor needs to be raised for the entire industry, and we couldn’t expect the smaller players to do what the larger players would not. The one thing we did not count on was the majority of the same buying leadership that asked for this step to go silent now that it is here.
By signing the agreement, a supplier is agreeing to let government inspectors onto their property for voluntary, rigorous inspections. One needs to look no further than at the beef industry to see the credibility that government inspectors carry, even in the event of recall.
Any supplier can have a food safety manual on the shelf, and I’m sure everyone does. It’s the verification of those practices that the inspectors are looking for, and what makes this marketing agreement different than all others. Nothing in the marketing agreement stops any supplier from implementing a higher standard in any area they see fit. The agreement is just a floor that a signatory is agreeing to never go below.
It is a head scratcher to try and understand why buyers would not make this mandatory for all of their leafy greens suppliers. It is not a cure for an industry without a “kill step”. But it is another firewall to make sure people are doing what they say they are, no matter how large or small their operations are. You should challenge the buying side of your readership to come forward and help us understand why a mandatory signature to the agreement is not in the best interests of the entire industry. There is always the possibility that those of us that signed on may have missed something.
— Eric Schwartz
Dole Fresh Vegetables
The words resonate: The one thing we did not count on was the majority of the same buying leadership that asked for this step to go silent now that it is here.
Because the truth is painful for those of us, including Tim York, Dave Corsi and Eric Schwartz and, yes, including the Pundit as well. It is painful for all who have struggled to raise the bar for this industry to rebuild consumer confidence, to rebuild regulatory confidence and to bring the industry to a higher standard. It is painful to acknowledge the reality.
The reality is that when the speeches are done, and without questioning anyone’s hearts or morals, the reality is that the overwhelming majority of buyers are unwilling to risk having to pay more for produce in order to achieve food safety. Period. That is it.
Eric Schwartz says we should “… challenge the buying side of your readership to come forward and help us understand why a mandatory signature to the agreement is not in the best interests of the entire industry.”
And so we issue the challenge. Please, buy-side readers, explain your viewpoint. We’ll keep your name anonymous if it need be.
Yet we don’t really think that many on the buy side would deny that either requiring their suppliers to sign on or, at least, requiring third-party audits that all suppliers are meeting or exceeding the standards of the CMA would be good for the industry.
They don’t sign on because they don’t want to say what signing on means.
When Dave Corsi says he is restricting his supply chain, he is saying that Danny Wegman and the Wegmans family would prefer to always have product grown to accepted safety standards than always be the cheapest on lettuce.
And in the end, a refusal to restrict one’s supply chain is a declaration that one would rather be “competitive” on price than offer one’s customers the safest possible product.
That attitude is more than a little scary and a very big problem for the produce industry going forward.
very big problem for the produce industry going forward.