The mood in Washington, D.C., is surly, but that perhaps is only a dim reflection of the mood throughout the country and in the fresh produce industry.

Record attendance at the United Fresh Produce Association’s 2010 Washington Public Policy Conference was a credit to the outstanding job the association does in putting together a solid program for the industry to engage regulators and members of Congress on important issues.

Perhaps the 500-plus who attended also were motivated to voice their frustration over the lack of leadership in Washington to address the industry’s concerns.

Congress has yet to act on the long languishing food safety legislation and child nutrition reauthorization, two issues that are nothing if not bipartisan.

Of course, Congress has long avoided tough choices on immigration reform, and the Obama administration has let the Mexican trucking dispute foul American exports with retaliatory tariffs for more than a year.

There is work to be done in Washington, and even in the best of times most lawmakers don’t have a laser-like focus on the needs of the produce industry. It is likely that the November elections will give Republicans a stronger hand, which could lead to continued inaction on controversial issues like immigration.

Yet there are reasons to be encouraged.

Both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are engaged with the industry and moving forward to advance important food safety, nutrition and economic development initiatives.

As easy as it is to be cynical about Washington, an event like the public policy conference reveals there is never a time to abandon work — and hope — for progress on issues important to the industry.

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