(Sept. 20) BOCA RATON, Fla. — Food safety and immigration reform issues dominated the Florida produce industry’s yearly convention.

Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association members met Sept. 16-18 at the Boca Raton Resort & Club for the group’s “Industry Crossroads” 64th convention before the fall fruit and vegetable season.

Commenting on incidents such as Dole Food Co. Inc.’s Sept. 17 bagged salad recall, Tom Nassif, president and chief executive officer of Western Growers, Irvine, Calif., said the industry needs to do a better job communicating to the public that E. coli situations may likely occur.

“The good part of that news is that they found it and were able to recall it,” Nassif said. ”So far, thank God there have not been reports of any illnesses. It’s up to us to communicate to the public that we cannot control nature, these things are going to happen.”

Tony DiMare, president of the Florida Tomato Exchange and vice president of the DiMare Co., Homestead, in a session on food safety costs, discussed the surging costs grower-shippers have had to incur to meet the numerous buyer-requested food safety inspections.

“We have to somehow unify as a total industry and harmonize what we’re doing,” DiMare said. “From a grower’s standpoint, you cannot continue to absorb all these additional costs. It would break every grower in the industry in the country.”

Scott Horsfall, chief executive officer of the California Leafy Green Products Handler Marketing Agreement, Sacramento, told Florida growers and shippers what West Coast packers have been doing to ensure safe produce shipments.

“We’re under a great deal of scrutiny,” he said. “Everyone is watching what we’re doing, from a governmental and media standpoint. The stakes are very high.”

To roaring audience applause at the association’s Sept. 18 awards luncheon, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson spoke of his aggravation with the way Washington, D.C., lawmakers have been handling the immigration issue.

“I predict what will happen if they don’t get off their duffs and quit playing politics on this issue and get migrant workers with the proper credentials in this state and around this country to pick fresh fruits and vegetables, this country would see an economic downturn that none of us want to see,” he said. “If the other things weren’t thrown at this issue, the farm worker side could have been settled long before now, but they’re using it as a whipping boy for all the rest of the issues put on there. That’s what it’s all about.”