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Pundit’s Mailbag —
Should PMA And United Merge?

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, October 30, 2006

After the Pundit got his ear chewed off at the PMA convention on the issue of whether the Produce Marketing Association and the United Fresh Produce Association ought to merge, we dealt with this controversial subject here. The gist of the article:

The spinach/E. coli crisis impressed many with three ideas:

  1. There is a need for the trade to have a single front in Washington.

  2. There is no clear distinction between what PMA and United are doing in D.C., and there is a lot of duplication and waste between the government relations efforts of the two associations.

  3. Whoever is doing government relations hasn’t been successful in building the kind of relationships that are crucial for the industry to create and maintain.

We received a lot of favorable response. Most wanted to be anonymous but some put their necks on the line:

You know that this is what I have been saying for the past eight years.

You are right on the button!

— Harris Cutler
Race West Company And Philip G. Ball Company

And this:

I cannot agree with you more regarding the merger of the PMA and United. I have been calling for it for years. As government gets ever more moribund, bureaucratic and lethargic, a fractious voice is lost. Fragmentation and resistance to unite has been the bane of the produce industry for years and results in less power to be heard. When entities unite, they become stronger and speak to their issues with one clear and strong voice.

In an age of “co-opetition” rather than competition, the produce industry remains stubbornly divided and we all suffer for it, individually and as an industry. I second your thoughts heartily.

— Richard Kaiser
The Richard Kaiser Company

But others argue that whatever the merits of a merger, it wouldn’t have made a difference in this situation as there is a fundamental cultural problem in which Americans have grown so distant from the farm that there is no longer any tolerance for even the slightest risk — they argue that the government is virtually compelled by these large cultural forces to over-react to any health risk.

So effective government relations or not, it wouldn’t have mattered much here:

Always enjoy your thoughts. Great article on a PMA/United merger.

I would argue the comment about how a united front in DC, with a good relationship with the USDA would solve some of the problems associated with emergency health problem in agriculture similar to the e-coli outbreak in spinach.

When our society was more agrarian, people understood how food was grown, packaged and distributed. Now however, ignorance is the rule, and sensationalism pervades the 24/7 newsrooms. This forces the USDA to over-react to any situation that poses potential loss of life. They may know that our food supply is the safest in the world, but people demand action and that their government protect them.

Consumers’ view of agriculture now is not the family farm next door, but large multinational corporations that sell branded produce from multimillion dollar, state of the art packing sheds. They think that it will hurt the large corporation, but not destroy it. So their conscience is clear. After all, which comes first, the safety of their children, or a large corporation’s bottom-line?

Keep up the good work.

— Bob Davis
Maine Farmers Exchange

We have received many other pieces on this subject, including some very thoughtful ones, so we will be continuing to deal with this subject over time. Please feel free to send your thoughts as well.

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