Americans’ appetite for regulation has waned, and mainly along political lines. Has the industry’s appetite waned?

Does the industry still want more government regulation? The poll question for this week at the 5,174-member Fresh Produce Industry Discussion Group is this:

The fresh produce industry in the U.S. has:

A. too little government regulation;

B. too much government regulation; or

C. about the right amount of government regulation.

Not to prejudice the results, but a Gallup poll, noted in Mish’s Global Economic Trend Analysis, showed that 47% of Americans say there is too much government regulation rather than too little (26%).

Of course, the industry’s leading associations (United Fresh Produce Association, Produce Marketing Association and Western Growers) famously called for more government regulation in 2006 after foodborne illness outbreaks linked to E. coli on spinach and green onions.

Several years past that point, and with the Food Safety Modernization Act on the books but far from implemented, what is the industry view today?

In what was no doubt considered a “man bites dog” story, The New York Times covered the industry’s epiphany in 2006 about the need for federal regulation and oversight to restore consumer confidence in food safety.

The lead paragraph summed up the problem, and the anticipated solution:

“Facing a loss of consumer confidence in fresh fruits and vegetables because of repeated outbreaks of foodborne illness, three major produce industry groups have for the first time called for government regulation in an industry that until now has had none.”

Later in the story, Jim Gorny, then with United Fresh but now at FDA, was quoted saying, “We are open to any and all solutions including regulation at the federal or state level.”

That remark drew a surprised response from David Acheson, then chief medical officer of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition at the Food and Drug Administration. He said, in effect, “Sure, I guess we can regulate fresh produce growers, but we may not have the staff or money to pull it off.”

I don’t know how to predict what the industry might feel now, and the since the poll is open for a full year, we might see some waning and waxing of sentiment depending on current events.

The FDA is slowly moving the regulation train down the tracks with excruciatingly slow progress, so much so that again the industry seems to be saying, come on already, hit me with it, good or bad.

Continued focus on food safety issues hasn’t seemed to stop food recalls, which is a dispiriting result for all involved.

The industry’s good faith decision to seek federal oversight was calculated to allow them to participate in the process, whether through the leafy greens marketing agreement or development/refinement of good agricultural practices and input on legislation.

In that respect, the leadership of the trade associations was enlightened, as results of those cooperative efforts continue to bear fruit.

The coordinated response will be among the top legacies of each of the leaders of the industry’s trade associations, and particularly so for Tom Stenzel, president and chief executive officer of United Fresh.

Perhaps a companion project should have been to create a generic marketing campaign, funded with mandatory assessments, to tell the consuming public the industry’s commitment to food safety and healthy living for all Americans.

It is too early to say how the industry’s desire for more oversight to restore consumer confidence will be judged in 15 years.

The growth in government regulations and buyer-driven food safety demand is daunting for grower-shippers. I have a feeling there will never be a day when the rank and file of the industry would say, “By jove, we need more government regulation.”

But in 2006, their leaders soberly weighed the needs of the industry and made that call for them. And it reverberates still today.

What's your take? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.