(Aug. 11) A new scandal connecting a U.S. Department of Agriculture inspections official to alleged wrongdoing likely will have little negative effect on industry confidence in the system, according to the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association.

“I guess I’d also say that to us it’s more of a personnel matter within USDA,” said Robert Guenther, United’s vice president of public policy.

Guenther was referring to an alleged wrongdoing by Thomas Gambill, a USDA official who directed new inspector training for the Agricultural Marketing Service during the fallout of the 1999 Hunts Point bribery scandal.

Gambill entered a guilty plea to illegally reselling software packages worth more than $162,000, according to an internal USDA memo to all Fresh Products Branch employees from Leanne Skelton, chief of the AMS fresh products branch.

The USDA has said it would not comment on anything related to Gambill’s situation until after he is sentenced Sept. 19.

Gambill headed the USDA’s Fredericksburg, Va.-based fresh produce inspector training center, which Congress created in the wake of the Hunts Point scandal. The training center plays host to 10-week training sessions required for all new inspectors and includes training on ethics as well as commodity grading standards.

The facility also has been used for industry training on inspection standards.

The case has more bearing on one agency employee than on the efficacy of the USDA’s inspection program, Guenther said.

“They found an issue, took care of it and went through the proper legal channels to address it,” Guenther said. “They have safeguards. They had a problem and took care of it.”

The inspection system has proven to be an effective response to a Hunts Point situation that rocked the produce industry, Guenther said.

“Hunts Point was a true test of the industry’s state, and the industry at that point in time said they want a third-party government entity dealing with our inspections and grading-type processes,” Guenther said. “The attitude was that we want to work to make this right, and I think we’ve made great strides in that.”

Gambill was director of the multimillion dollar facility when it opened in 2001 and served in Fredericksburg until 2004, when he was transferred to Washington, D.C., according to a USDA official speaking on background.