PALM BEACH, Fla. — Production agriculture — especially fruits and vegetables — has a key stake in discussions on sustainability.


Florida growers tackle food safety and sustainability at meeting

Doug Ohlemeier

Hank Giclas (left), vice president of strategic planning, science and technology for Irvine, Calif.-based Western Growers, and Tom Stenzel, president of the United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C., talk about how sustainability initiatives could affect produce. The two participated in a Sept. 29 panel discussion on the emerging issue during the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association’s annual convention in Palm Beach, Fla.


Produce industry leaders discussed the emerging issue during a Sept. 29 panel discussion at the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association’s yearly convention.

Tom Stenzel, president of the United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C., and Hank Giclas, vice president of strategic planning, science and technology for Irvine, Calif.-based Western Growers, participated in the discussion.

When sustainability was first discussed, it was a hot issue in which almost everyone had a motive on the topic, whether it was pro-organic or anti-biotechnology, Stenzel said.

He said growers shouldn’t view sustainability as a burden.

“There is a huge potential impact all across production agriculture, particularly fruit and vegetables,” Stenzel said. “We leave out a very important thing, what we’re offering to consumers. The better health benefits we offer for consumers, that’s part of the whole social responsibility. We as an industry have a huge advantage there in simply the products we sell.”

Giclas said sustainability has been one of those big issues set aside because no one can agree on it.

“This should be a significant opportunity for us to put a face on practices growers have been practicing for years,” he said.

Jim Mulhern of Watson & Mulhern LLC, a Washington-based public relations agency specializing in crisis communications, urged growers to prepare for possible food safety crises.

He said he expects Congress to send President Obama a bill overhauling food safety regulations bill by the end of the year or early next year.

“This is the major negative issue we (the produce industry) have to deal with,” Mulhern said. “This one is so important to get right so we get the static out of the air so people can focus on the positive messages coming out of our industry.”

This year’s industry gathering attracted around 300 participants, up from 250 that attended last year, said Lisa Lochridge, FFVA’s director of public affairs.

Given the state of the economy and people scrutinizing their travel, she said the group was encouraged by the turnout.