(Aug. 6) WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Fruit and Vegetable Industry Advisory Committee has new life.

The high-profile panel that lends industry input to the U.S. Department of Agriculture as it develops policy got a two-year extension Aug. 5, when Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman announced that the USDA had rechartered the committee.

“It’s extremely important to have a direct communications link from the industry to USDA,” said Tom Stenzel, president of the United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association. “We had lobbied for this committee for years and years before Secretary Veneman appointed it two years ago. Now it’s more of an ongoing commitment, as opposed to kind of a one-time thing.”

The original committee, whose two-year term was to expire Aug. 6, was created to provide suggestions and ideas to the USDA on how it might tailor its programs to meet the fruit and vegetable industry’s needs. The rechartered committee will consist of up to 25 industry members appointed by Veneman to serve two-year terms.

INDUSTRY CROSSCUT

Veneman appointed members of the current committee in February 2002.

The members represent the fruit and vegetable industry and include representatives of fresh fruit and vegetable growers or shippers; fresh fruit and vegetable wholesalers; brokers; retailers; fruit and vegetable processors and fresh-cut processors; foodservice suppliers; state departments of agriculture; and trade associations.

Maureen Torrey, vice president of Torrey Farms Inc., Elba, N.Y., and chairwoman of the committee, said she delivered a letter to department officials in early July asking for the committee’s reauthorization.

With reauthorization now in place, the committee is tentatively scheduled to meet Sept. 30.

MANY ISSUES

In previous meetings, the committee provided the USDA with input on several issues, including fruit and vegetable purchasing by the USDA, the USDA’s 5 a Day partnership, country-of-origin labeling regulations, the USDA’s inspection services and the pilot program for free produce in schools.

The committee also has expressed concern with the USDA’s Microbiological Data Program, questioning the program’s objective and methodology.

“This is so important, what we’re doing,” said Karen Caplan, president and chief executive officer of Frieda’s Inc., Los Alamitos, Calif., and the committee’s vice chairwoman. “I don’t know that I fully appreciated the full impact, but it is incredible. And it’s very applicable to the tactical part of running our businesses. And the little things that you wonder if government will ever change, it’s huge.”

The USDA, which will appoint committee members, will accept nominations until Sept. 6. Nominations should be sent to Robert Keeney, deputy administrator, AMS Fruit and Vegetable Programs, Room 2077-S/USDA Stop 0235, 1400 Independence Ave. SW, Washington, DC 20250-0235 or e-mailed to robert.keeney@usda.gov.

Individuals nominated to the committee or receiving nominations should contact Sandra Gardei, the federal designated official, to receive the necessary forms for membership. She can be called at (202) 720-0988 or e-mailed at sandra.gardei@usda.gov.