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PMA activates largest grassroots campaign for AgJOBS

WASHINGTON -- Starting the week of April 23, the Produce Marketing Association plans to activate the group's largest grassroots campaign to convince Congress of the dire labor crisis that is affecting not only producers but also every player in the produce supply chain.

Dubbed "Empty Shelves, Empty Plates," the campaign is aimed at getting the produce industry -- particularly buyers -- engaged in calling on Congress to support the Agricultural Job Opportunity, Benefits & Security Act of 2007, also known as AgJOBS.

While Congress may still debate comprehensive immigration reform, the produce industry is pushing for AgJOBS to pass this year, whether as part of the larger bill or as a free-standing bill.

"This is a supply-chain issue," said Kathy Means, PMA's vice president of government relations. Buyers are being told about the effects of labor shortages and the interruptions in supply, she said. Producers who just barely harvested crops this year are expecting at least a 30 percent reduction in labor this year.

Without legislative relief, prices will go up, consumption may go down and more commodities will be grown offshore, she said.

The new campaign was put together just weeks ago in response to calls from PMA members asking what more can be done to pass AgJOBS, said Ms. Means.

"Many of our members have made it very clear that they need PMA's concerted effort to show the breadth of the impact of worker shortages. This campaign is the result," PMA President Bryan Silbermann said in an April 18 press release.

The weeklong campaign is the largest grassroots push for PMA to engage the produce industry through letters to the trade press by produce industry leaders, advertising, personal calls to legislators by PMA board members and a telephone campaign to all members from PMA Chairman Peter Goulet. PMA is also expanding its web site to guide members in e-mailing lawmakers on AgJOBS.

Ms. Means said that everyone in the produce industry should contact their local legislators. If a company owns a chain of restaurants or grocery stores, then produce buyers in every store and every legislative district should contact elected leaders, she said.

Without workers in the fields, we won't have produce on consumers' plates," said Anthony Barbieri, director of produce sales for Acme Markets Inc. "If they aren't there to gather the produce from the field, it will obviously never make it to retail and foodservice establishments," said Mr. Barbieri.