(Sept. 4) I got an e-mail from an East Coast receiver who expressed interest in a story last week about the North American Tomato Trade Working Group.

He was drawn to the remark by Denton Hoffman, general manager of the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Producers Marketing Board, Leamington, Ontario, that indicated the members of the group will conduct self-policing to ensure shippers don’t sell at different prices in domestic and export markets or sell below the cost of production in export markets.

“Doesn’t this essentially mean that they will be price fixing?” the receiver asked me.

Just when you are trying to do something positive for the industry, you get accused of price-fixing! What’s this? Conspiratorial potshots at the trilateral tomato commission?

Actually, the question is fair; a tomato buyer has a right to be skeptical whenever talks turn to pricing.

Ed Beckman, chairman of the working group meeting in San Diego and president of the California Tomato Commission, Fresno, and Hoffman were traveling when I composed this column and couldn’t be reached.

However, Lee Frankel, president of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, Nogales, Ariz., said U.S. and Canadian law would allow grower cooperatives to set export prices.

On the other hand, he said the same authority does not exist in Mexico.

“Whereas during the Depression, the response (in the U.S. and Canada) was to give growers an antitrust exemption, there doesn’t exist the language for agriculture cooperatives that would allow Mexican growers to do the same thing as in Canada and the U.S.,” he said.

I like the fact the tomato industry made headlines by getting together someplace besides an oak-paneled room at the International Trade Commission. I say cut the group major slack until we see what steps they make to boost grower returns and cut down on lawyer fees.