Chuck Robinson, Media Watch
Chuck Robinson, Media Watch

Commercial fishing is a tough life.

It is the deadliest job in the U.S., or so I hear listening to NPR’s “Morning Edition” in late August.

“If you fish New England cod, you are 37 times more likely to die on the job than a police officer,” host Steve Inskeep told us.

Even so, the industry has been slow to adopt safety measures that could lower the death toll.

Reporter Curt Nickisch said none of the 165 commercial fishermen killed on the job from 2000-09 had life jackets on.

When forced to upgrade equipment, the industry does it begrudingly but no one is trained how to use it. That was the gist of the article.

“If there’s a resentment to these kinds of rules, it’s based on the overall huge number of regulations that have come down on our industry in the last decade — so much federal nanny state, kind of telling us how to operate, when I think I have a pretty good understanding of what I need to do to keep safe,” said one boat owner.

I can hear echoes of this comment in the produce industry.

Right after that boat captain spoke, another was quoted about a safety equipment training session he and a few other fishermen organized.

They tried to abandon ship using the proscribed safety equipment and learned it wasn’t easy even under good conditions.

“There’s a holy crap issue to it,” the second boat captain said.

We know some cantaloupe shippers who must have thought “holy crap” or stronger stuff in recent weeks.

Trials and traceback

I can imagine adding a few acres of something to give it a try, figuring we will get serious about all the details once we have stuck our toe in the water.

I can see myself adding to my responsibilities and not realizing until I am neck deep that I need help to keep afloat.

We can all empathize with that holy crap feeling.

However, shipping cantaloupes with no lot numbers for traceback, like Chamberlain Farms’ owner says they did? Really? In this day and age?

So when does the industry get serious about growing cantaloupes? We’ve got growers abandoning melons in their fields.

The Food and Drug Administration blew a January deadline for issuing rules required by the Food Safety Modernization Act. Since then, the White House Office of Management and Budget has stalled it.

However, national commodity-specific guidelines for cantaloupes are in the works, thanks to the cooperative efforts of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, Produce Marketing Association, United Fresh Produce Association and Western Growers.

How many growers will resent the guidelines? Will smaller operations feel these guidelines don’t apply to their operations?

The Magic Eight Ball says “future uncertain,” and so does Hank Giclas, vice president of Irvine, Calif.-based Western Growers, who told The Packer last week that more federal rules and guidelines won’t help.

“There is no shortage of guidance out there, and still we see instances of people who aren’t following that,” Giclas said.

It isn’t nanny state regulation.

It is what has to be done to be in the business.

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