(March 18) No one will dispute that the U.S. produce industry provides an affordable, healthful, varied and safe supply of fruits and vegetables to consumers throughout the world.

But Sept. 11 has changed the view of food production. Many in government now think that those attributes are not enough. They — understandably — fear that terrorists might contaminate the nation’s food supply, be it in the field, in the packinghouse or elsewhere in the processing and distribution network. And they have determined that the food supply could be the target for a terrorism.

To that end, the Food and Drug Administration has proposed a new set of food security guidelines. Among other guidance, the FDA calls for all growing fields and packinghouses to be fenced, for all containers and trucks to be locked or sealed, for all water to be protected, for daily security examinations of all facilities and for tamper-evident packaging on all products.

The FDA’s concerns are understandable. The nation’s food supply must be protected. But, as the United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association has pointed out, any food security guidelines must be realistic.

Unfortunately, the FDA’s aren’t.

For example, the cost to erect fences around all growing fields would be prohibitive. And fences probably would be ineffective in deterring terrorists. In many production areas, water is not under the direct control of growers. If growers don’t control it, they can’t secure it. Tamper-evident packaging would harm fresh produce and eliminate bulk displays of product.

And all of the guidelines would add to the bill consumers pay at checkout, which could be a deterrent to increased consumption.

United is leading the effort to work with the FDA to come up with guidelines that will help ensure the safety of the food supply while allowing the produce industry to continue to provide a fresh, affordable and nutritious supply of fruits and vegetables.

In the world after Sept. 11, that’s no easy task. But its importance cannot be overestimated.