WASHINGTON — The timing could not be better for the United Fresh Produce
Association's Washington Public Policy Conference. Congress will be making
decisions on childhood nutrition and food safety bills when United Fresh
holds its conference, here, Sept. 14-16.
Food-safety legislation may reach the Senate floor when Congress returns
from its summer break Sept. 13, and the House of Representatives will be
rushing to complete action on a childhood nutrition bill before the program
expires Sept. 30, Robert Guenther, United Fresh’s senior vice president of
government relations, said during an Aug. 31 webcast for conference
Every fall, United Fresh brings fresh produce industry leaders to Washington to
meet with lawmakers and staff to discuss top-shelf legislative issues and
delve into regulatory concerns with key Cabinet and other administration
officials. The top legislative issues this year are childhood nutrition, food
safety, immigration reform, Mexico tariffs and card-check legislation.
Congress has nine legislative days to wrap up action on the federal childhood
nutrition legislation, and United Fresh does not want any more extensions,
Lorelei DiSogra, the association’s vice president of nutrition and health, said
during the webcast. The Child Nutrition & WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004
expired Sept. 30, 2009, but Congress extended the school feeding programs
until Sept. 30, 2010.
The fresh produce industry supports the Aug. 5-passed Senate bill that would
increase the federal reimbursement rate per meal for schools that serve
healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables. The bill also directs the U.S.
Department of Agriculture to set nutrition standards for all foods and
beverages sold in schools, a move Ms. DiSogra said would rid schools of junk
United Fresh does not favor a provision in the $8 billion bill pending in the
House that would add frozen and dried commodities to the fruit and
vegetable school snack program. "We are opposed to any changes to this
program," she said. The provision would weaken the integrity of a program
that doles out fresh fruits and vegetables to school-aged children, she said.
The Obama administration supports the Senate bill and wants it passed by the
Sept. 30 deadline, Ms. DiSogra added.
With a nationwide egg recall and a ground beef recall in full swing, there is
pressure on the Senate to act on food-safety legislation the week of Sept. 13
when Congress returns to work, Mr. Guenther said.
Produce leaders will be advocating for food-safety legislation that does not
include finished-product testing, user fees or geographical quarantine
provisions, he said. The industry wants to make sure Congress gives the U.S.
Food & Drug Administration clear direction to write produce safety standards
that are commodity-specific and risk-based, he said.
Immigration reform may come up, and United Fresh members will be urging
Congress to make a “down payment” on reform this year with a bill that
addresses agricultural labor issues, Mr. Guenther said.
Produce leaders also will be telling Congress about the financial blow produce
companies are experiencing as a result of the Mexico truck pilot program
trade war. Congress should push the Obama administration to reinstate an
acceptable safety program to allow Mexican trucks to enter the country, a
move that would remove the damaging retaliatory tariffs that were recently
extended to apples and pears, he said.
Finally, Mr. Guenther said that card-check legislation may come up if
Congress returns for a lame-duck session after the mid-term elections in
November. “We oppose efforts to modify the current secret ballot election
system,” he said.