(Dec. 12, 11:10 a.m.) With the U.S. officially in a recession since December 2007, the number of formal and informal complaints filed with the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act branch in fiscal year 2008 is up significantly compared with the previous year.

PACA is the government-run system that allows traders to pursue damages from those who do not meet their contractual obligations in buying and selling fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture cannot say if the increase in complaints is tied to the recession, said Karla Whalen, chief of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s PACA branch.

Informal complaints filed with PACA in fiscal year 2008 (beginning in October 2007 and ending Sept. 30, 2008) were up 9% compared with fiscal year 2007, Whalen said. Fiscal year 2007 informal complaints were up 6% over fiscal year 2006, Whalen said.

“The trend is going up,” Whalen said, though she added it is too early to say if fiscal year 2009 would see another increase in informal complaints.

Informal complaints are submitted to the PACA branch for mediation or settlement where both parties are satisfied.

If those informal complaints are not resolved, then parties can file formal complaints. Those complaints are decided by a USDA judicial officer.

In fiscal year 2008, formal complaints filed with PACA jumped by 15.4%. In 2007, those numbers were up 7.7% when compared to 2006 informal complaints.

“Companies that are taking their disputes farther down the chain for judicial resolution almost doubled,” she said.

Whalen said the PACA branch also keeps track of the number of closed informal complaints. Informal complaints are closed when one of the parties, usually the debtor, files for bankruptcy.

The number of cases that were closed because of bankruptcy from fiscal year 2007 to fiscal year 2008 doubled, from 46 in fiscal year 2007 to 94 in fiscal year 2008.