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Pundit’s Mailbag — Thankfulness

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, November 22, 2006

With Thanksgiving around the corner, the Pundit gives thanks for having readers such as this:

Your handling of all these issues on a daily basis must certainly be taxing to you.

Personally, I have learned so much about the salad side of the industry. The politics of PMA, United and FDA leave me puzzled as I look at two very expensive invoices on my desk for dues to both PMA and United in 2007. The merger of PMA and United is critical, and I hope you can continue to press for it. PMA needs to graciously absorb United or risk offending the “die hard United supporters.”

The industry needs one voice, an uninterrupted stream of “clout” and even more important, the industry needs to have a focused grass roots support system where every farmer, co-op, packer, processor, trucker retailer, wholesaler is in touch with elected officials in their area constantly supporting the work of our one “super organization” in effectively protecting and promoting tremendous growth for all aspects of our industry. In this case, the sum of all the parts will always be greater than individual associations and large companies.

FMI’s bi-annual convention plan allows a tremendous opportunity for United to join with PMA for one super-convention. Pundit, this is going to take a lot of work, but the fruits of this labor will be tremendous for all of us.

Regarding the stated goal of 100% success in eliminating any potential bacteria in our fresh food system, the cost associated with perfection will potentially price fresh produce out of production and consumption.

Irradiation and great fences are still not enough to protect our produce from fork to table. Pushing hard in those directions will be expensive and without a definite positive result.

Instead, the industry should review all HACCP, farm practices, processing, transportation, storage, wholesale, and retail steps and come up with a voluntary plan to constantly keep as many of the variables as possible in check. As an industry we can certainly get this accomplished without pricing ourselves out of business.

We have to remember that at the base of all these food hazard outbreak reports is the national reporting system that has just been instituted that links together hospital reports from all over the country and gives a quick take on any outbreaks.

These outbreaks could have been happening for the last fifty years without a reporting way to connect them. What we have seen so far is not the end of this.

We will no doubt as an industry take charge of making sure that our house is in order and take all the necessary steps to minimize as much as is humanly possible the potential for outbreaks of any problems caused by fresh produce.

Now a few comments about the Pundit:

Your extensive coverage leaves no subject without great healthy discussion, and no topic is too sacred. Your courage in stating your opinion and your reaction to criticism is respectful and honest. As an added bonus you have taught this Pundit fan quite a bit about the power of the internet.

Any one who is interested can refer back to articles and items that are relative to the subject with tremendous ease. That is an education for those of us who are still refining our computer skills.

The Pundit must continue this valuable service which points me to a note I passed to you in the first few days of your beginning this valuable service.

Every-day publishing is a big responsibility. The industry needs this Pundit, strong, healthy, and available, perhaps not every day, but certainly as issues come up and on a regular basis.

It would be a shame if the Pundit burned out from over production…..

Thanks again for this tremendous industry service you provide.

We have always been fans of your magazine. We have turned to your editorials as the most important journalism in the industry, and now we get them every day. Don’t run out of energy. You have become the “voice” and we need you strong.

— Harris Cutler
Race-West Company
Clarks Summit, PA

The exciting thing about the Internet is that one never runs out of energy because the whole industry gets hooked into a permanent feedback loop. Here at the Pundit, when we make a mistake we get blasted; when we do something right we get praised; when things need to be done, we are told.

Harris’ letter is both thoughtful and revealing. His mention about the two invoices on his desk brings down, in a very real way, the issue the industry is confronting. The Internet is going to democratize decision making as it is already democratizing information.

Many times over the past century, decisions have been made by a small coterie on a board. One senses change in the air, that the old ways cannot hold, that a new generation used to instantaneous information is going to start asking questions. And start speeding up decision cycles.

Unfortunately, our boards, though technically democratic, are really self-perpetuating and all too often they get captured by the CEO. So decisions sometimes are made with too much consideration for individuals and not enough for the industry at large.

That can only go on though as long as the industry is willing to pay for it.

Harris also exhibits a dose of practical good sense when he points out that perfection is not to be had in human affairs and that advances in technology have made the reporting of outbreaks commonplace. But in all probability, the food supply is safer than ever.

Although we are told incessantly that this doesn’t matter and we have to keep insisting that only zero illnesses from our product is acceptable, the Pundit finds that the truth tends to matter over time. As much as we want to be safer, we also want the world to be realistic about the trade-offs involved. So maybe we need a two-track educational effort to both educate the industry on how to do things safer and the regulatory community and population at large on what is reasonable.

As to Harris’ kind words for the Pundit, we only wish we had more hours to deal with the fascinating issues this wonderful industry must contend with. As long as readers like Harris keep writing, we find this work not taxing but invigorating.

We have much to be thankful for this holiday.

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