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Todd Hultquist, director of communication and membership for the U.S. Apple Association, said that 2010 is already proving to be a busy year. During the week of Jan. 11, the association's public affairs committee met in Vienna, VA. "This group identifies priority issues for the coming year, which the board then approves at the semi-annual board meeting in late March," Mr. Hultquist told The Produce News.

Following are highlights of top priorities identified in a paper compiled by the association in January.

USApple said that agricultural labor reform is its top legislative priority. "USApple will continue to support passage of meaningful agricultural labor reform and work within the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform, the National Council of Agricultural Employers, the H-2B Coalition and with the Congress and the Obama Administration," USApple wrote. The association's stated objectives are to provide legally stable, adequate and predictable labor; and address the high level of H-2A rates, provide for program simplification and remove unreasonable employer sanctions.

With regard to reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, USApple supports an increase in reimbursement rates for school meals tied to the implementation of dietary guidelines. "USApple also supports expansion of the Department of Defense Fresh Program, Fruit & Vegetable Snack Program and Section 32 purchases as part of the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act," the paper said.

The association opposes provisions of H.R. 2454 -- climate change legislation. "If the Senate moves ahead with a bill of its own, the impact on apples and specialty crops must be taken into account including the competitive disadvantage it would put us in with low-cost producers like China," the association said, adding that permanent tree crops must be eligible for carbon sequestration, and the energy-intensive nature of apple production must be recognized.

On the matter of Chinese fresh apple imports, USApple said that officials should be vigilant about pests and plant diseases identified by the Animal & Plant Inspection Service, which are present in Chinese apple production but are not present in domestic production. "Under no circumstances should these pest or disease threats be allowed to enter this country and jeopardize U.S. apple production or marketing," the association said. "Congress is urged to closely monitor the broad threat posed by Chinese apple imports if their entry is approved by APHIS."

Although dongressional action on the Employee Free Choice Act has stalled, USApple is opposed to the legislation. "Existing methods to join or form a union and negotiate contracts should be preserved and protected," USApple wrote.

The association is concerned about various aspects of H.R. 2749, the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009, and S. 510, the Federal Drug Administration Food Safety Modernization Act. "Both bills would significantly expand FDA authority for food safety, including updated Good Agricultural Practices, mandatory recall authority and mandatory food safety standards for the safe growing, harvesting and packaging of 'high-risk' fruits and vegetables," the association said. As for its concerns, USApple said, "The House bill has more stringent traceability requirements than the Senate bill as well as higher fines and registration fees for facilities. The Senate bill includes some exemptions for small farms."

The association said that food-safety practices "should be risk-based, commodity-specific and reflect sound science to help ensure consumers are provided with healthy and nutritious apples and other produce items."

USApple said that Congressional leaders must recognize the unique needs of agriculture in the area of healthcare reform. High turnover of workers and job seasonality are important considerations, the association said. "USApple opposes legislative and regulatory actions that would impose new mandates, fines or immigration enforcement. The complexities highlighted in the healthcare debate further illustrate the need to pass comprehensive immigration reforms, including AgJobs."

The association supports a small business exemption and is working with Congressional leaders to promote seasonal small business exemptions in the final legislation.

(For more on apples, see the Jan. 18, 2010, issue of The Produce News.)