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WASHINGTON -- Top leaders of the Produce Marketing Association met with members of Congress and U.S. Department of Agriculture officials the week of May 10 to voice support for immigration reform, food safety and boosting consumption of fruits and vegetables.

PMA has ramped up its presence in Washington in recent years and is now viewed on Capitol Hill as an authority for "real world information that's credible," PMA President Bryan Silbermann told The Produce News May 15.

Mr. Silbermann joined PMA Chairman Bill Schuler, president and chief executive officer of the Castellini Group of Companies, and Tom O'Brien, PMA's Washington representative, to honor Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) at a Capitol Hill luncheon.

Sen. Feinstein is a strong supporter of the Center for Produce Safety at the University of California-Davis and a vocal advocate for her proposed legislation, the Agricultural Job Opportunity, Benefits & Security Act (S. 1038), a bill that would help farmers in securing a legal workforce, he said.

When leaders of the produce industry are sitting across the table from United Farm Workers President Arturo Rodriguez at a luncheon to honor the AgJOBS champion, "that's a pretty powerful statement," said Mr. Silbermann, who noted the strong coalition in favor of workforce changes.

Other meetings on Capitol Hill focused on the stalled food safety legislation, the Food Safety Modernization Act (S.510), which passed a Senate committee in November but has yet to be scheduled for the Senate floor. After meeting with Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill, "not a single person was against food safety legislation," he said.

PMA leaders also met with USDA officials, including Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan, to lend support for ways to boost fruit and vegetable consumption through the salad bar initiative and the school lunch program.

USDA officials discussed the need for training to make sure that food workers are up to speed on food safety guidelines as the government helps finance salad bars in schools; they also discussed USDA's role at the June 23 produce research symposium to be held at the Center for Produce Safety. At the daylong event, the center plans to release the results of 11 CPS-funded research projects, and USDA is sending high-level officials to the event, according to Mr. Silbermann.