Tom Stenzel, president of the United Fresh Produce Association, recently gave what was billed as "an inside look at today's fresh fruit and vegetable industry" at a meeting of the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture. The meeting was held Thursday afternoon, April 3, in Philadelphia.
Stenzel gave an overview of the fresh fruit and vegetable industry in the United States today and discussed "some of the challenges ahead as I see them,"he told The Produce News a few days after the event. Among those challenges are labor, which he termed "the number one issue threatening the industry," as well as immigration reform and food safety.
On the labor issue, Stenzel reminded his audience that "most fruit and vegetable operations are highly labor-intensive" and that the "labor crisis is growing and threatens the existence of much U.S. fruit and vegetable production."
On the related immigration issue, he said that the United States needs to move forward on fixing the current immigration policy to ensure that the produce industry — which in many areas relies on undocumented workers — remains viable and retains enough workers to ensure adequate supplies.
On the food-safety issue, the United president declared that "fresh produce is extraordinarily safe" but that produce is grown "outside in nature, not in manufacturing plants," and the industry must stay vigilant in protecting food safety. He reminded the audience that the general public "still expects zero risk."
Stenzel also spoke about how United is contributing to the national goal of getting Americans to increase the amount of fresh produce they consume every day, especially those who historically consumed the lowest amounts. "We need to bring fresh produce to those who need it the most," he stated, especially children and those with lower incomes.
In that regard, he noted with pride that United and the Let's Move Salad Bars to School campaign have donated more than 3,000 salad bars to schools around the country, since "salad bars are now seen as the best way for schools to increase consumption."
The meeting drew about 45 people and was extremely informative, society President David Webster, chief executive officer of Webster Marketing International LLC in Lafayette Hill, PA, told The Produce News.
"Tom's presentation was very well received," he said. "Many of those [in attendance] told me it was one of the best they'd heard."
The Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture was founded in 1785 and is one of the oldest agricultural societies in the nation. According to its website, much of the credit for the creation of the society goes to Benjamin Franklin, and George Washington was an honorary member. Two society members were signers of the Declaration of Independence.