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Perishable Pundit
P.O. Box 810425
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Ph: 561-994-1118
Fax: 561-994-1610


email:
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Produce Business

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American Food & Ag Exporter

Cheese Connoisseur



Wal-Mart’s ASDA Serious About Sustainability

Wal-Mart is pretty hot on sustainability initiatives, but its UK subsidiary, ASDA, is really focused:

ASDA CELEBRATES DOUBLE AWARDS SUCCESS
Supermarket Wins Two Prestigious
Environmental Awards In One Week

ASDA is today celebrating what was another golden night for the company after scooping the ‘Most Environmentally Friendly Retailer’ award at this year’s prestigious People in Retail Awards held in London last night [3rd October 2007].

The news comes less than week after ASDA was named ‘Multiple Environmental Retailer of the Year’ at the Retail Industry Awards, proving that the supermarket really is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to sustainable retailing.

ASDA won its latest accolade for its common-sense approach and commitment to the environment, beating off strong competition from the likes of Tesco, B&Q and Dixons.

As well as highlighting ASDA’s commitment to reducing waste, eliminating packaging and saving energy, the award-winning entry impressed judges with its highly successful community and colleague-based initiatives, including its ‘Get Involved’ project and Green Diary for colleagues.

Chief Executive Andy Bond said, “To win two awards in just one week is a tremendous result. They are certainly a testament to our hard work and innovation”.

ASDA’s heritage of green retailing dates back to the 1980s when Archie Norman coined the phrase, ‘We hate waste of any kind’. Since then ASDA has built on this principle to lead the field when it comes to sustainable retailing.

Among ASDA’s “green” initiatives:

Reducing waste
It is committed to sending zero waste to landfill by 2010

Eliminating packaging
It is committed to reducing its own brand food packaging weight and carrier bag usage by 25% by the end of 2008.

Saving energy
It is committed to reduce the CO2 emissions from stores and depots by 20% by 2012.

ASDA has a specialist environment team that is continually looking at innovative ways to reduce its impact on the environment.

The team covers areas as diverse as packaging, recycling, waste management, energy and water use, through to transport and store development

Bully for them! However, we’ve been doing a lot of consumer research in this area and can say that many consumers are skeptical that all this stuff isn’t just another way to increase profits.

From our perspective here at the Pundit, where we seem to get a notice of a British multiple getting a “green”-related award every day, most presented at a lavish hotel banquet, we wonder if someone shouldn’t do a carbon footprint study of all these awards ceremonies!

Seriously, congratulations to ASDA on being recognized for its initiatives.




Mastectomy Mistake Brings Up Spectre Of Labs Not Scrutinized

We ran two pieces, Why The Secrecy On Inspection Agency Lab Results? and Inspection Agencies Could Assist In Traceability, dealing with the way the Canadian Food Inspection Agency dealt with the testing it did in its investigation of Dole product that was eventually recalled.

We criticized the CFIA for its secrecy:

Logically, we would look to the quality of the testing: Did the CFIA use approved methods of testing? What method was used? Was there, in fact, a confirmed positive? Has CFIA looked within its own lab and sampling method to see if there might be a possible cross contamination?

Unfortunately, the CFIA won’t give out any information. They will not share test results or the PFGE strips. They just repeat like a mantra that they took 40 bags, and broke them into 8 samples of 5 bags each.

This is a very serious matter. Reputations, businesses, whole industries can be destroyed based on government reports on these matters.

It is too important a matter to allow for possibly self-serving secrecy.

Both the companies involved and the public at large are entitled to complete transparency so that the possibility of error or malfeasance can be considered.

How do we know that CFIA isn’t covering up for the incompetence of its own lab? Perhaps one day a lab technician will be paid off by a competitor. The process has to be transparent or people will lose confidence.

There is not a reason in the world why CFIA doesn’t release the PFGE strips and the test results so other experts can at least review them for anomalies.

We had been sensitized to the issue of lab error after our piece, Church Brothers/True Leaf Recalls, Then “Unrecalls” Spring Mix/Arugula After Testing Mishap, in which a lab error caused all kinds of problems. Yet what really got us concerned about that situation was how easy it would be for a lab to cover up its failures — easier than admitting them.

Now news like this hits the airwaves:

Mastectomy Mistake: ‘You Don’t Have Cancer’
Woman Told She Has Breast Cancer,
But Learns After Operation Her Biopsy Slide Was Mixed Up

Darrie Eason, a 35-year-old single mother from Long Island, N.Y., underwent a double mastectomy after she was told she had breast cancer. But after the surgery, she learned the unthinkable — she never had cancer at all.

“I remember the words, ‘You don’t have breast cancer, you never did’,” Eason said today on “Good Morning America.”

The news was stunning.

“I have a philosophy that you have to laugh to keep from crying, so I try to laugh as much as I can,” Eason said.

A state report blames Eason’s mix-up on a former technician at CBLPath lab who mislabeled her biopsy results. The report said the technician “cut corners.”

Yet interestingly enough it appears that the State found no systemic problem at the lab:

But in a statement, CBLPath Medical Lab said, “The New York State Department of Health found no systemic problems and no deficiencies were cited against the lab.”

Eason filed a lawsuit last month against the laboratory, seeking an undisclosed sum. Her attorney, Steven Pegalis, said they hope to learn whether or not the error was a system failure.

“Was that an isolated act by one individual who never before made a mistake?” Pegalis asked on “GMA. “I doubt it. It’s possible. But we’ll try to find out.”

You can read the entire article here. The piece goes on to recommend that people always get a second biopsy. Although that advice seems questionable considering the expense, the risk of the procedure, etc.

Remember that there is another woman who actually had cancer but was not told of it in a timely manner. You can never tell the consequence of this.

The State’s finding that the lab had “no systemic problems and no deficiencies” would indicate that the state does not expect labs to have systems in place to check for the occasional human error. In other words, it is acceptable that some frequency of misdiagnosis will occur due to human error. Otherwise they would require internal verifications.

One feels horrid for this woman and revulsion at the sense of fatalism that holds that every once in a while a woman will lose her breasts needlessly due to human error in the lab. The piece quotes a safety expert as explaining the situation this way:

Wachter said there have to be backup systems that anticipate human error. “You have to create technologies that anticipate that humans will blow it from time to time and catch the errors before they kill someone,” Wachter said.

One of the most important back-ups is that labs must operate under the scrutiny of interested parties.

United, PMA and CPMA should be bringing this issue up with the regulatory authorities.




USDA Explores Possible National Marketing Order For Leafy Greens… But Are We Ready?

Back in July we ran a piece entitled, Pundit’s Mailbag — National Marketing Orders And Agreements, in which we discussed differences between marketing agreements and marketing orders and the difference between both of these approaches and mandatory regulation.

We reached out to USDA officials for additional information:

Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott spoke with Bob Keeney, Deputy Administrator for Fruit and Vegetable Programs, Ag Marketing Service (AMS) to get some details:

Q: What is the current status regarding efforts to take the California Marketing Agreement national?

A: What we’re doing is preparing a document now called advanced notice of proposed rule making for a leafy greens marketing agreement nationwide.

This will be a document that will solicit comments from the industry on whether the government should issue a nationwide marketing agreement for leafy greens or not.

There is a marketing agreement in the state of California only. What we’re working on is a very, very preliminary look on whether the industry feels we should issue this agreement nationwide. We would first be soliciting comments from industry, consumers and all interested parties on taking this agreement national.

We want to emphasize this is very preliminary.

Q: Is there anything happening with the development of a marketing order?

A: We’re not looking at a federal marketing order for leafy greens.

Q: What are the differences between a marketing agreement and marketing order in your mind?

A: The difference at the federal level: marketing agreement allows regulation, if shippers agree. They become signatories then have to abide by all terms of the agreement. In California when they signed the agreement they agreed to abide by it. Marketing order differs in that all the handlers would have to abide by those requirements — whether they agreed or not.

At the federal level we are only looking at marketing agreement and we’re at a very preliminary stage.

Mira also spoke to Jimmie Turner, Public Relations Specialist Fruit & Vegetable Programs, for additional information:

Q: What is Lloyd Day’s position? And what is going on with regard to a national Marketing Order for Leafy Greens?

A: The Marketing Order Administration Branch is under the auspices of Lloyd Day. Any marketing orders or marketing agreements would be managed, coordinated through that branch.

What’s happening now is that the USDA AMS is working with California leafy greens growers seeking to make the California Marketing AGREEMENT nationwide. THIS IS NOT an ORDER, it’s an AGREEMENT.

Once a formal request from leafy greens growers is received that they want to change or establish a marketing order or agreement, a notice is put out in the federal registry seeking comments to change or establish the marketing order or marketing agreement or to not establish such an order or an agreement. People are given a comment period which could be 30 days or could be 60 days. Once comments are received it goes to the Marketing Order Administration Branch.

However, this effort to expand the California Agreement nationwide would not be a marketing order, it would be a marketing agreement. We also have not received any formal request from the industry. We are doing this preliminary work on our own.

As far as USDA AMS’s involvement, we’re in the process of putting out an advance notice, it’s a preliminary step toward a marketing agreement nationwide, seeking comment, asking questions, then analyze those comments, then promulgate agreement if that is the determination. A marketing agreement is voluntary, unlike a marketing order. Handlers of leafy greens become signatories, and by signing the agreement they agree to abide by the terms of the marketing agreement.

USDA AMS and leafy greens growers met in DC a month ago about this effort to extend the agreement nationwide. We’re getting ready to prepare an advance notice. As part of the process, for our purpose we publish advance notice in the federal register seeking comments.

It was all very interesting but a little awkward. USDA is not responsible for food safety on fresh produce; FDA is. And nobody had asked it to put together a proposal for a Marketing Agreement, at least not officially. Yet the word is now out that USDA has, in fact, published an “Advance notice of proposed rulemaking” regarding “Handling Regulations for Leafy Greens Under the Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act of 1937.”

You can read the whole notice here but, basically, USDA is looking for feedback regarding the possibility of establishing a National Marketing Agreement for Leafy Greens modeled after the California Agreement.

United Fresh immediately came out with a statement pointing out the criteria its board had established as essential parts of a produce safety regulatory framework:

Statement by Tom Stenzel, President and CEO
Regarding USDA’s Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking
For Federal Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement

“United Fresh Produce Association has been discussing with USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service various options under its authority that might be useful in supporting best agricultural practices for leafy greens, and enhancing public confidence in the safety of these products.

“While USDA does not have regulatory authority over food safety for produce, we appreciate their efforts to work with industry in ways they can to assist us in meeting these goals. We will look carefully at the Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and review this with our members, volunteer leaders on our Food Safety and Government Relations Councils, and our Board to evaluate its pros and cons and then provide further comments to the agency.

We have already communicated to USDA the three principles our Board adopted earlier this year that we believe must be part of an overall produce safety regulatory framework.

To protect public health and ensure consumer confidence, produce safety standards:

  • Must allow for a commodity-specific approach, based on the best available science.
  • Must be consistent and applicable to the identified commodity or commodity sector, no matter where grown or packaged in the United States, or imported into the country.
  • Must be federally mandated with sufficient federal oversight of compliance in order to be most credible to consumers.

“It is our overriding goal for consumers to have confidence in the safety of all leafy greens they purchase, and that those commodities are grown according to the same safety standards, no matter where produced in the United States or internationally.”

The Produce Marketing Association came out with its own statement pointing out that USDA is seeking input from the industry:

In the October 4, 2007 Federal Register, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking in response to industry interest in the establishment of a marketing program to address the handling of fresh and fresh-cut leafy green vegetables.

The program would allow packers, processors, shippers, and marketers to maintain the quality of their products by reducing the risk of pathogenic contamination during the production and handling of leafy greens. Authorities and regulations under the program would not supplant those of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Industry comments, particularly from growers, handlers, buyers, and sellers of leafy green commodities, are sought regarding whether to issue such regulations under an AMS marketing program and if so, the possible substance and implementation of the program. In particular, AMS invites responses to the following questions:

  1. Would the handling of leafy greens be better addressed though regulations under a voluntary marketing agreement signed by handlers, or under a mandatory marketing order regulating handlers and approved by a producer referendum?
  2. Would such a program be better implemented on a national or a regional basis?
  3. How should the United States be subdivided into smaller regions for the purposes of committee representation and program administration?
  4. How should committee membership be allocated to adequately represent the interests of industry throughout all regions of the United States?
  5. What process should the committee follow to recommend regulations appropriate to the various regions?
  6. What specific problems or issues should be addressed by such a marketing program?
  7. Would Best Practices based upon FDA guidelines be the best criteria for regulation of leafy green handling, or are there other criteria available that might better meet the industry’s needs?
  8. Which specific leafy green commodities should be included under the program’s handling regulations?
  9. What are potential obstacles to the implementation of such a marketing program?
  10. What are the potential costs associated with the implementation of such a program, including changes to current production and handling procedures, assessments, and audits?
  11. How would a marketing program complement, duplicate, or conflict with any other existing programs, such as state food safety regulations?
  12. Are there other issues and/or suggestions about such a marketing program?

Although AMS has not received an official proposal similar to that of the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement already in place in California, members of the leafy greens industry have expressed interest in the establishment of similar standards through a Federal marketing program. Industry discussions have focused on the need for a program with national scope.

In the Federal Register notice, AMS stated that the agency is considering the development of a marketing agreement as previously described in this document because it believes that an agreement, rather than an order, is more likely to meet the needs of the produce industry across the fifty States and the District of Columbia.

Comments must be received by December 3, 2007. For more details, contact Laurel May or Kathleen Finn, Marketing Order Administration Branch, Fruit and Vegetable Programs, AMS, USDA, at +1 (202) 720-2491 or e-mail laurel.may@usda.gov or kathy.finn@usda.gov.

The complete Federal Register notice can be found here.

Western Growers Association has always articulated a plan for spreading the Marketing Agreement to a national level. California was first, Arizona looks primed to be second — that would cover about 90% of US production, and this would move it nationally.

Many in the industry — including PMA and United — have expressed the viewpoint that such marketing agreements — in which joining the agreement is voluntary, but once one signs, compliance is punishable by fines — are probably inadequate in the long term.

First, we are unlikely to get everyone to sign, so it is an imperfect program since it doesn’t guarantee consumers that anything they buy is covered. In fact the highly concentrated California industry, right after the spinach crisis, is probably the high-water mark for voluntary agreements.

Second, the USDA is perceived as heavily influenced by the agricultural industry. So USDA plans, whatever their substantive merits, are unlikely to gain the same degree of consumer and regulatory confidence as is actual regulation by the FDA.

However, it is not an either/or situation. FDA regulation takes a long time. Congress has to pass a law, regulations must be formulated, enforcement mechanisms developed, etc. A Marketing Agreement can be done much more quickly.

In fact, if you really want FDA to regulate, probably the quickest way to make it happen would be to establish a national marketing agreement. Then a whole system is up and running, and it becomes far easier to transition the system to FDA control than it is to start from scratch.

There are, however, still disquieting things about the whole situation:

First, the industry is setting itself up for failure if any one substantial player decides to withdraw. This seems highly likely and, the trade, having trumpeted this voluntary mechanism, will really have egg on its face if a big chunk of product is not covered by the agreement.

Second, the metrics, which will only get more complicated as the geography gets more diverse, are still not being developed in a manner that is easily defensible. We can’t negotiate these out in smoke-filled rooms. We need leading experts to publicly endorse them and issue dissenting opinions when they disagree.

Third, we need to find a mechanism by which buyers are pleased to pay more and give orders to those that are exceeding the minimum requirements of any regulation or agreement. If buyers won’t recognize value in exceeding these metrics — even though the standards may raise the performance of poor performers — then the buyers may also stifle innovation to make food safety stronger.

Fourth, we need a marketing solution to how we can tie ourselves together under a marketing agreement rubric for food safety — yet we must not have the whole program discredited when someone has an outbreak.

Fifth, we need to reassess our industry. The proposal for a national marketing agreement, as with the California one, is focused on “handlers,” not growers. In effect, we are torturing a statute that was designed to assist growers into a tool that regulates growers. The question is why are we doing this? Why don’t we do a normal Marketing Agreement and have all the growers vote to establish it?

The answer in California was that, even after the spinach crisis, WGA did not think it could get the votes. One presumes it would be even harder to get the votes on a national basis as many growers have never had a problem in their region and thus will be resistant to increased regulation.

Yet, solving the food safety problem is more a matter of culture than of metrics. Should we inspect annually, semi-annually or by surprise — we can never inspect enough to make sure people do the right thing. We can make all kinds of rules on what farmers ought to do if they see a wild animal in the spinach field. Only a compelling food safety culture, though, will make the farmer see the animal as opposed to turning a blind eye.

The fact that we, as an industry, are afraid to have growers vote on such an issue indicates that we have a lot of work to do in terms of helping growers develop a culture of food safety down on the farm.




More Challenges For Farm Bill

It seems like just the other day we were running pieces, such as USDA’s Draft Farm Bill Targets Specialty Crops and produce Notches Up On Farm Bill, pointing out the trade’s success at getting additional funding in the Farm Bill.

Yet now The International Herald Tribune reports that of the trade’s $8.5 billion dollar wish list, the House only came up with $1.6 billion:

U.S. SPECIALTY FARMERS CONFRONT COMMODITY JUGGERNAUT

With Americans eating bad diets and getting fatter by the year, the country’s produce industry made a bold political calculation.

Surely, farmers thought, the government could be talked into supporting crops like New Jersey tomatoes, Michigan apples and California spinach.

A new farm bill is on the drawing board in Washington, and growers of fruits, vegetables, tree nuts and nursery crops, known collectively as specialty crops, came up with an $8.5 billion wish list. They built political alliances. They doubled their campaign contributions. They even sent nine perky watermelon queens in white sashes to Capitol Hill to press their case.

But confronting what a U.S. Senator calls “old-time power politics,” mastered long ago by savvier farm lobbies like cotton and corn, the specialty crop growers are coming up short of their goals. They have secured only $1.6 billion so far in a House vote and hope to improve on that in the Senate.

“We have a voice in Washington, but it isn’t anywhere near what the cotton boys or corn or soybeans or ethanol has,” said Chuck Obern, a vegetable farmer in Clewiston, Florida.

Farming may conjure up images of red barns and Holstein cows. But in Washington, farm politics is a game of sharp elbows and opportunistic alliances, and the agricultural policies that emanate from Capitol Hill are remarkably resistant to change.

Those policies come up for renewal about every five years. What is emerging this time, in legislation that has passed the House and is pending in the Senate, looks a lot like the system that has been on the books for decades. It would spend some $14 billion a year on payments to farmers, with billions going to growers of big commodity crops like feed corn and cotton, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

It would spend little on crops that most people recognize as food, like carrots, peaches, almonds or spinach. Such crops, along with nuts and nursery plants, generate almost half the country’s crop receipts, $57 billion out of a total $120 billion in 2006. But the industry is fragmented and growers have never had much political clout.

Senator Judd Gregg, Republican of New Hampshire, is a veteran of the farm wars. He summed up the way things work on the Hill like this: “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch your back, and we’ll save programs that are worthless.”

For decades, even as commodity growers collected hundreds of billions from the government, produce farmers wanted nothing to do with Washington. Concentrated in the sunbelt states of California, Texas and Florida, they enjoyed healthy prices for their crops and managed to grow them with no government subsidies.

But in recent years, the industry has confronted unprecedented challenges. Outbreaks of food-borne illness from contaminated lettuce and spinach created an urgent need for research to safeguard the food supply. Non-U.S. competition and labor shortages, meanwhile, have decimated some produce sectors like garlic, tomatoes and apricots.

Produce farmers argue that consumers have a stake in their success, and should therefore support their requests for farm bill dollars. Without a strong and competitive produce industry in the United States, consumers would depend on foreign sources of fruits and vegetables where regulations may not be as stringent, they contend.

And the industry wants government money to promote consumption of fruits and vegetables. For instance, the House version of the farm bill would expand a program that provides free fruits and vegetables as school snacks to all 50 states.

Produce growers first decided they needed help the last time the farm bill was up for revision, in 2002, and they created an alliance with other specialty crops such as nursery growers, tree-nut farmers and the wine industry. The coalition debated whether to ask Congress for subsidies but ultimately decided to seek money for research and marketing instead, mostly to help farmers compete with an onslaught of foreign competition.

With little experience lobbying Congress, the industry’s campaign fell flat.

“We put together a nice little booklet for the farm bill. We were so proud of it,” said Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for the United Fresh Produce Association. “We didn’t work the Hill much.”

Having learned from those mistakes, industry leaders began planning for the current farm bill in May 2005. They set their sights much higher, $8.5 billion for marketing, research and grants, but no direct subsidies. They cultivated ties on the Hill.

Whether the political strategy of the specialty crop industry will pay off should become apparent in coming weeks.

You can read the complete article here.

One senses from the piece that legislators may vote for bills establishing and expanding funding for all kinds of programs that will play well with the folks back home: Conservation efforts, produce in schools, produce food safety research, etc.

In D.C., however, “tis always many a slip ‘tween the cup and the lip,” and there is a long road before appropriation bills are passed and the Treasury starts writing checks.

The Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance, came out with a statement applauding the Senate Finance Committee for its willingness to "provide more than $8 billion in new funding for overall farm bill priorities" and praising the Committee for addressing the alliance’s priorities "outside the baseline funding" — this is all code for agreeing to spend money on specialty crops but not having the courage to take any away from program crops. Yet this is unlikely to work.

In a new fiscal environment where the President is anxious to regain Republican fiscal credentials by vetoing bills that exceed spending limits, every dollar that goes to produce is a dollar that can’t go somewhere else.

That means the upcoming Senate battle over the Farm Bill will be filled with challenges.




Single Step Award Honors Food Safety Heroes But Reminds Us There’s More To Do

A journey of a thousand miles begins
with a single step.
Lao-Tzu, The Way of Lao-Tzu
Chinese philosopher (604 BC — 531 BC)

As the industry prepares to gather in Houston for PMA’s annual Fresh Summit, few issues resonate more loudly than food safety. There is, thankfully, no crisis at the moment and, indeed, the industry can point to many accomplishments over the past year in advancing the cause of food safety.

Yet it is also true that for all the progress made, there is much to be done.

If we are fortunate and have a break from outbreaks, the steps that still need to be walked will be more difficult, for without an urgent problem the willingness to both spend prescious treasure and to compromise on difficult issues will abate.

So, just over a year after the outbreak of the great Spinach Crisis of 2006, we thought it important to honor key individuals whose efforts made possible the progress the industry has made on food safety in the past year.

We offer this award, which we have named, The Single Step Award, as a reminder that today’s honorees took a step for the whole industry, but we have a responsibility to see the journey through.

Our list is, of course, far from inclusive. Every person who signed the California Leafy Greens Handler Marketing Agreement enabled it to happen; every buyer who urged a supplier to sign made it happen. And we have specifically excluded from consideration the industry’s great infrastructure of association leaders, academics, journalists and others. Much work was also done collectively, via service on the boards of the various associations — all work of utmost importance and all beyond the purview of this award.

It goes without saying that the trade’s response to the crisis would have been impossible without the wisdom, judgment and leadership of, in alphabetical order, Jim Boggart, President and General Counsel, Grower-Shipper Association of Central California; Tom Nassiff, President, Western Growers Association; Bryan Silbermann, President, Produce Marketing Association; and Tom Stenzel, President, United Fresh Produce Association. No award could ever sufficiently recognize the contribution these gentlemen made at a moment of great uncertainty for the trade. We are all in their debt.

Yet while many in the trade contributed, certain key individuals played a special role and it is our purpose to honor them today. Each of honorees will receive a plaque commemorating their contributions and a total $1,000 donation will be made to the Center for Produce Safety in the name of the honorees.

The recipients of The Single Step Award are as follows:

Dave Corsi
Vice President Produce
Wegmans Food Markets

Dave was, along with Tim York, a founder of the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative, and in that role was instrumental in forming an organization that made it clear there was no option for nothing to happen. Beyond this, as a board member of PMA on the track to become Chairman, and as a representative of one of the nation’s most esteemed retailers, his attempts to influence others carried a disproportionate weight.


Mike O’Brien
Vice President Produce & Floral
Schnuck Markets

Also a regional retailer, he was particularly willing to reach out and try to persuade others to do the right thing. And as Chairman of PMA’s Retail Board he had the golden rolodex. In addition, his high profile at the Produce for Better Health Foundation and, ultimately, his position as Chairman of the Board of PBH has given his voice special weight as he deftly made the connection between consumers being secure in the safety of their food and our trade’s hope to boost produce consumption.


Joe Pezzini
Vice President of Operations
Ocean Mist Farms

His position as Chairman of the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California put him at the very center of the spinach crisis. When nobody could have blamed him had he finished his term and walked away, he agreed to assume the Chairmanship of the California Leafy Green Handler Marketing Board. In so doing he has established every precedent for how the Chairman of the Board ought to conduct himself.


Eric Schwartz
President
Dole Fresh Vegetables

Carrying the power of the Dole name into battle on behalf of food safety, Eric has wielded a big stick, but he has not spoken softly. Unlike executives at many large companies, he has not been timid about using the media to make his case. At one point he used the media to try to persuade others to join the California Marketing Agreement, now he has continued to use the media on a broader mission, bringing the consumer media to Salinas to help rebuild the trade’s shattered reputation.


Bruce Taylor
Founder, Chairman and CEO
Taylor Farms

Bruce is a son of Salinas. With many of the large fresh-cut processors now owned by companies headquartered elsewhere and others forced into silence by lawyers and insurers, many in the Valley looked to Bruce for leadership as Salinas came under attack. As the crisis receded, he upped the ante on good citizenship as Taylor Farms contributed generously to help found the Center for Produce Safety. Bruce will be assuming the Chairmanship of PMA in Houston and thus this Salinas hometown boy is now speaking on behalf of food safety on the trades largest stage.


Tanios Viviani
President
Fresh Express

As the President of the largest fresh-cut processor, Tanios was going to wind up decisive in what direction the industry wound up taking. His initial refusal to join the California Marketing Agreement helped drive the industry to tough standards. His decision to join, in the end, was a gift to a trade that truly needed his help. Fresh Express’ financial support of important food safety research stands as evidence of a commitment to build a safe future for the produce trade,


Tim York
President
Markon Group

The man with the fire in his gut, he drove the Buyer-led Initiative. Challenged at every turn by those who tried to minimize the problem, he stood up for food safety at every forum. As a former Chairman of PMA, he could have done nothing, and no one could have said he hadn’t done his bit. But he chose to become engaged, leveraging his PMA connections, Markon’s reputation for food safety and the deep and abiding power of a man who believes in his cause.

****************

The truth is that the term “a single step” is a bit of a misnomer. Modern scholars translate the Chinese text as reading “A journey of a thousand miles, starts from beneath one’s feet.” Here is how the stanza is written:

A tree that can fill the span of a man’s arms
Grows from a downy tip;
A terrace nine stories high
Rises from hodfuls of earth;
A journey of a thousand miles
Starts from beneath one’s feet.

Lao-Tzu (6th century B.C.),
Chinese philosopher.
Tao-te-ching, bk. 2, ch. 64, trans. by T.C. Lau (1963).

The point, of course, of the newer translation is that we can only begin our work from where we are and the point of the old translation is that we have no choice but to work in increments. Perhaps, together, the two definitions capture the spirit of this honor we bestow today.

Each of our honorees has been kind enough to speak with us and discuss the events of the past year and their thoughts on the future of food safety. We will be running daily interviews with our honorees to share these conversations with the industry. We begin with thoughts from Dave Corsi today.

We congratulate each of our honorees and express the gratitude of the trade for the efforts you have made to enhance food safety. Your efforts will inspire “single steps” by many others, long into the future.




Single Step Award Winner — Dave Corsi Of Wegmans Food Markets

To kick off our interviews with the winners of the Pundit’s “Single Step” Award, we asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, Mira Slott, to speak with our first honoree (alphabetically):

Dave Corsi
Vice President Produce
Wegmans Food Markets
Rochester, NY

Q: Your name and that of your company emanates such respect throughout the industry that your leadership role after the spinach crisis has been viewed as invaluable in instigating change. Needless to say, you’ve lived up to your reputation to help build food safety both within your company and beyond Wegmans’ doors on an industry-wide basis.

A: Over 10 years ago, Danny Wegman started a food safety taskforce with FMI and made significant ground in addressing industry problems on the meat protein side of the business. Today, he is chairing the food safety task force and now the food area of priority is produce safety. It is very important for us. We don’t find this a competitive issue. If food is safer, it benefits us all.

I don’t know why people respond so well to regional players. Mike O’Brien is very involved with the chairmanship of the PMA retail board, and he is Chairman this year of Produce for Better Health. People regard him with high respect for that.

I’m currently Secretary Treasurer on the PMA board, and have been involved in the PMA for a number of years. We are at the pulse of the industry, dealing with the issues of critical importance. We lead conversations for all of us. Our connections with associations in other areas also help bring notoriety to others.

Q: Do you remember how things unfolded on that fateful day in September last year when news of the spinach E. coli problem first surfaced?

A: In historical crises and days of monumental importance, you tend to remember quite vividly where you were and how you felt. In the same way people can place where they were when JFK died, I am able to relive the feelings I had that day. Going back to September 14, 2006, I was coming home from one of my daughter’s soccer games. I received a call from Bill Pool, Manager of Agriculture Research and Food Safety for Produce at Wegmans, and now on the advisory committee at the new Center for Produce Safety. He informed me of the FDA advisory to consumers not to eat any fresh spinach. At that moment, I knew it wouldn’t be food safety as usual, but I didn’t know yet the magnitude of the number sick, and the tragedy of the three deaths. I became acutely aware that I had to do something to make a difference.

Tim York called me and we shared our passions and decided to take action and bring others along with us. I place most of the credit on Tim for driving the buyer-led initiative, but I helped craft the messages and assisted him as much as I could.

Hence, the coalition was born. This did make a difference in expediting change in food safety. Certainly the coalition wasn’t the only entity. Industry organizations were creating protocols. Being on the executive board of PMA, I knew PMA was very involved with commodity-specific food safety guidelines for leafy greens, then helping to generate specific metrics to measure. WGA’s Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement was adopted in California, which I believe to be a great model. I was elated that the model is being extended, and I applaud similar work being done in other states and commodities.

Q: What’s your assessment of the industry’s position in meeting its food safety goals at this point?

A: We are in a much better place than we were a year ago. The industry has done an excellent job in bringing to light the issues and creating solutions.

The creation of the Center for Produce Safety at UC Davis is a celebration. The confluence of industry, government, academia and consumer groups should make a difference in information exchange and training. We need a blend of individuals with various interests and vantage points to affect change. And we need better research to alleviate pathogens.

The work is far from done. It is not only a leap from a series of food safety programs to common food safety protocols that are measurable and verifiable, but much more science is required to improve our ability to limit pathogens in the food supply.

Q: Wegmans has developed a long-standing reputation for always selecting product produced at higher food safety standards over less expensive product. And you made a clear, strong statement that you would restrict buying to suppliers that signed the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement. In the end, do you think buyers will stay committed to upholding food safety standards by limiting who they purchase from?

A: At Wegmans, food safety is not a competitive issue. The buyer coalition is based on that premise. We were able to have a group of retailers and foodservice suppliers form a coalition because we all had the same passion behind creating a better and common series of protocols. So we weren’t complicating matters by having buyers all working on different sets of protocols, which would create more challenges for growers.

Looking across the industry, we had to ask our industry advocates, such as PMA, WGA, and United Fresh to come up with one set of measurable, verifiable protocols that all could follow. It was easy for us to collaborate on what to ask for from the industry. I will say things already were being worked on between some of the associations, and WGA initiated the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement to provide a set of protocols, embracing what the State of California was asking. Now that we have this marketing agreement in place, it should be a great template to follow for leafy greens in other states and then we also have to target other commodities.

We helped expedite the process and bring it to the forefront. We placed calls to our suppliers saying this is important and you need to sign it. We could not see a reason why a supplier wouldn’t sign that agreement. It made sense and was what we were looking for within our philosophy.

It is important to credit the produce staff at Wegmans. The staff allows me to work on issues in the industry. This does take a significant amount of time, and I am fortunate to have a very solid staff working on many other areas in produce. There is no room for rivalry when food safety is concerned. We should all feel very comfortable to talk to our competitors about what is needed in the industry.

Where were you when you heard about the spinach crisis? Notice how Dave starts by noting the achievements of his boss and ends by thanking his produce team. Perhaps in that is evidence of why he could be so influential.

Congratulations to Dave, and thank you for taking the “single step” to help the industry get started on the road to a bright future that includes the safest fresh produce possible.

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