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Import-export shipping delays on agenda of upcoming WPPC

WPPC-logoWASHINGTON — All eyes may be on the Food & Drug Administration’s food-safety rules, but the United Fresh Produce Association is also keeping close tabs on problems that members may be experiencing in moving fresh produce through border crossings and ports, another food-safety topic on the agenda at this month’s Washington Public Policy Conference.

“One of the issues we hear the most is the [low] number of personnel who do the exams and inspections,” said Julie Manes, government relations director at United Fresh.

It comes down to resources and government cutbacks, she said, and the produce industry is going to “have to keep on top of this” to ensure agencies are staffed up to conduct the necessary exams, procedures and inspections.

During one of the business sessions at the Washington Public Policy Conference, to be held here Sept. 30-Oct. 2, United Fresh will discuss challenges for shippers and receivers in navigating border and port crossings to make sure highly perishable fresh foods are not compromised by delays.

Bruce McEvoy, global affairs director at Seald-Sweet LLC/UNIVEG Group, and Stuart Jablon, vice president of operations at Dole, plan to discuss the challenges and solutions at the Tuesday session.

Even changes designed to speed up processing at the port, though welcome, can create problems of their own for fresh produce companies.

Manes said she’s heard from members who complained about initial “glitches” with an U.S. Customs & Border Protection’s program that set up Centralized Examination Stations. CES are designed to speed up the examination process, reduce cargo delays and make the system more efficient.

In response, the trade association has had to contact CBP and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to call attention to the problems. Manes credits the government agencies with listening to the fresh produce industry’s concerns.

Another CBP initiative that United Fresh is keeping tabs on is a pilot program, Enforcement Link to Mobile Operations, known as ELMO, in which personnel are equipped with mobile technology devices to more quickly relay information on shipments.

So far, the pilot has been successfully tested at a maritime cargo port for recording results of agriculture examination that take place outside the CES facilities, and CBP plans to expand the ELMO pilot to other ports of entry, CBP said.

United Fresh does more than talk to federal regulators about import-export issues.

“We make sure some folks on Capitol Hill are aware” of government procedures that may delay crossings, she said.