WASHINGTON, D.C. — Since many people now consider Washington the financial capital of the U.S., it’s fitting that attendance at the industry’s top lobbying event smashed records.

Washington meeting becomes more important than ever

Greg Johnson
Editor

The United Fresh Produce Association’s Public Policy Conference, Sept. 9-11, saw 450 attendees this year, about a third larger than any previous conference.

The meeting has gotten so big it outgrew the Mayflower Hotel. It’s moving to the Gaylord National Hotel at Washington National Harbour next Sept. 14-16, said United Fresh vice president of communications Ray Gilmer.

The opening night’s festivities coincided with President Obama’s address on health care to a joint session of Congress on Sept. 9, which could have been terrible timing but ended up rather fortunate, aside from not being able to find a cab within a mile of the Capitol.

United held its Fresh Festival from 5:30-7 p.m. at the Cannon House Office Building, right across the street from the Capitol building, allowing congressmen and -women the opportunity to stop by on their way to the address.

While no official numbers were released by United, I can attest that many U.S. representatives graced us with their presence.

One, Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., met with constituents and industry at Fresh Festival, then heckled the president about illegal immigrants being included in Obama’s health care plan.

Perhaps you’ve heard this in the news?

——

Food safety was of course the major theme of the event, with a speech by Food and Drug Administration commissioner Margaret Hamburg and an FDA town hall.

But of United Fresh’s recommended issues for industry to lobby their senators and representatives about, the salad bar was the star.

Officially, United Fresh is pushing for the 2009 Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act to include a national policy for a salad bar in every school. Unofficially, the “Salad Bar in Every School” push was met with overwhelming enthusiasm.

As Gilmer put it, “Who could fight a salad bar?” Considering the political time bomb immigration reform has become, salad bars can’t seem to lose.

Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif., who represents Salinas, is pushing the bill in the House.

In case you’re wondering if fruit shippers might fight salad bars, fresh fruit is included in the program, so no worries.

——

Paul Begala, CNN analyst, college professor, Clinton strategist, and keynote speaker on Sept. 11, told jokes at Democratic and Republican politicians’ expense pretty equally.

It’s hard not to laugh at our past two presidents’ shortfalls.

Begala gave some good insight into what we’ve learned about President Obama in his first nine months as president:

  • He’s very careful with crafting his image, based on how often we see him with his wife and kids and how little we see him smoking;
  • He’s pragmatic, based on hiring former opponents Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton;
  • He’s got an audacious agenda; and
  • The story of his rise to the top is uniquely American.

However, Begala’s closing advice that our nation’s “greatest threat isn’t terrorism but cynicism” rings pretty hollow considering he’s so well known for being a partisan hatchet man, and he was behind Hillary’s famous “vast right-wing conspiracy” for her early 1990s health care failure.

Begala may not have known it, but his longtime partner in Democratic ops, James Carville, addressed the industry at PMA’s Fresh Summit in 2004 in Anaheim, Calif., the same place the industry will be in a few weeks for this year’s convention.

E-mail gjohnson@thepacker.com

What's your take on the Washington Public Policy Conference? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.